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John Edwin Mason
I teach African history and the history of photography at the University of Virginia.
Interests: jazz, documentary photography, carnival in cape town, racing and diversity, motor sports and diversity, and classical music.
Recent Activity
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Gordon Parks was a serious man. His claim to fame as a photographer rests on the searing photo-essays that he produced for Life magazine on issues such as poverty and racial justice. But he had a lighter side, and he revealed it, from time to time, to Life's readers. Today... Continue reading
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The most fun that I had with photography in 2014 was watching Eleanor Macnair recreate iconic photos in Play-Doh. A project that started out small and on a whim, not too long ago, became a phenomenon. Besides the original Tumblr, which has many thousands of followers, there's now a book... Continue reading
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Happy New Year, everyone! Marjory Collins/Office of War Information: New York, New York. Blowing horns on Bleeker Street on New Year's Day. January 1943. We're celebrating, today, with Marjory Collins, who worked for Roy Stryker's now legendary Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information [FSA/OWI] documentary project during World War II.... Continue reading
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Rolling Stone got it right. Nothing emerges more clearly from Lyra Bartell's "I Stand with Survivors" project than the simple fact that rape and sexual assault are serious problems at the University of Virginia [UVA] and that the university yet to adequately confront them. In these portraits -- there are... Continue reading
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Portraits never go out of style. They are, and always have been, the most popular form of photography. From the daguerreotype to the Instagram selfie, our love for portraits has been one of the constants in the history of photography. Why? Lots of reasons. We can start with the fact... Continue reading
A few days ago, photographs of the aftermath of the Israeli bombardment that left Palestinian four boys dead on a beach in Gaza prompted me to ask "What makes a photograph iconic?" The answer is several things, not just one. Iconic photos, I wrote, are both communal and personal. They... Continue reading
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Note: This has become part of a series on the politics of iconic photographs. Part 2 is here. I'll post Part 3 later this week. * What makes a photograph iconic? Why do some stick in our minds and represent for us a powerful historical memory, while others fade away?... Continue reading
Charlie Haden passed away this week. Hearing the news stopped me in my tracks. I didn't know him, but I loved his music. I was in my office, so I immediately found some of my favorite recordings by him on YouTube. (One of them is the second video below.) The... Continue reading
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I sometimes dread being invited to art openings -- especially when the invitation comes from the sponsor or the curator. It's not the awkward conversations or cheap wine that I fear. (Not much at least.) It's the worry that I won't like what I see. And, then, what do I... Continue reading
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Once in a long while, photographers have assignments that follow them -- and sometimes haunt them -- for the rest of their lives. Gordon Parks, one of the twentieth century's greatest photo-essayists, produced at least two of these stories. One involved the Fontenelles, an impoverished family in New York's Harlem.... Continue reading
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I can't remember when I first saw photos from Sarah Stacke's on-going project, "Love from Manenberg," but I know that I responded immediately to their intimacy and beauty. I also liked the people and the setting. Manenberg is an impoverished suburb of Cape Town, South Africa, a city that has... Continue reading
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Two people have done more to shape South African photography than any others. They have no peers. The first is David Goldblatt, who received the International Center of Photography's Cornell Capa Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013. The second is Jürgen Schadeberg, who'll be honored with the same award tonight. Both... Continue reading
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Yesterday, Photo District News announced the PDN 30 for 2014 -- 30 new and emerging photographers to watch. I was delighted to see that Zun Lee, of my favorite photographers, made the list. His deeply moving, long-term documentary project on black fathers -- "Father Figure" -- is one of the... Continue reading
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I'm not an Affrilachian, but I'd award myself the title if I could. My credentials look pretty good. I've spent most of my adult life on the fringes of Appalachia, in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Charlottesville, Virginia. I've got deep roots, on my mother's side, in Clifton Forge, Virginia, which is... Continue reading
When somebody says "jazz harp," I don't blink. After all, I'm a Frecnh horn player, and there aren't many instruments that are less likely candidates for membership in jazz circles than the horn. Not many, at all -- but the harp is surely one of them. Turns out that, in... Continue reading
I'm happy to see that the long awaited documentary Through A Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People is about to make its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. This is great news for anyone who's remotely interested in photography or history. The Huffingtion Post is already... Continue reading
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It's a big week for photography in Richmond, Virginia. Two exhibitions that are opening this week are going to make a splash. Louis Draper: Retrospective opens this coming Friday, the 10th, at Candela Books and Gallery. Then on Saturday, Signs of Protest: Photographs from the Civil Rights Era starts its... Continue reading
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Happy New Year, everyone! Let hope that all of our 2014's will be everything we want them to be. Marjory Collins: New York, New York. Blowing horns on Bleeker Street on New Year's Day, 1943. [Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Click on the image for a larger... Continue reading
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Merry Christmas, folks, from Marion Post Wolcott and me. I hope that your holidays have been (and will be) filled with joy. You're probably wondering what this photo has to do with Christmas. Not much, honestly, besides the fact that Wolcott, one of my favorite photographers*, made it on Christmas... Continue reading
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I just read a tweet from a South Africa journalist. He said, simply, "We weren't ready." Neither was I. Despite the fact that we all -- South Africans and the world -- knew that the end was near, despite the fact that we had spent months thinking about it, we... Continue reading
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The less you know about South African history, the more you're going to like Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. That's not necessarily a bad thing. It's an entertaining flick. When you walk out of the theater, you won't feel that you've wasted your money. Unless, that is, you were expecting... Continue reading
I just stumbled across this terrific short documentary by and about Zanele Muholi, the well known South African photographer and activist. I've been a fan for several years. Her commitment to both art and social justice -- her ability to see and to embody the connection between the two --... Continue reading
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When the principal told us that the president had been shot, we broke into applause, and I joined in. It's a shameful memory. I've spent a fair amount of time over the last 50 years trying to figure out what the heck it was all about. I was in the... Continue reading
I love the way that Nigerian photographer Akinbode Akinbiyi works. I mean his approach to photography (see below) and the way that he uses his camera. At least in the video below, he's shooting with a Rollei Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) camera, using the sports finder. That immediately makes him... Continue reading
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Good historical fiction is also good social history. That's one of the reasons that I use books like Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, a classic tale about the coming of colonialism to what is now Nigeria, in my teaching. Monte Dutton has just published The Intangibles, an historical novel about... Continue reading