A photo collection that reflects generations of Black joy

Parker Thompson ’23 has grown a collection of images that reflect the beauty of everyday Black joy. He's sharing them with the world in a new exhibition at the Griffin Museum of Photography.

Parker Thompson ’23 grew up collecting photos at antique shops. As someone with a Black parent who identifies as black and white bi-racial, he found himself drawn to images that illustrated ordinary expressions of Black joy. 

“Black subjects are so underrepresented in everyday photos. When we think of Black life in America, we think of depictions of the civil rights movement and the struggle Black people faced in achieving mobility in political freedom,” said Thompson. “These are important images, but there are Black people capturing the joy and vibrancy of their everyday lives outside of that experience. These images were taken without a societal mask. They are liberating.”
Parker Thompson '23 shows his tattoo of a moon
Photo/Dan Holmes

Thompson '23 shows his tattoo, inspired by a work from his collection.

Now, Thompson has transformed his collection into an exhibit, ​​”Intimacies, Long Lost: Selections from the Always Been Collection,” at the Griffin Museum of Photography in nearby Winchester. Running Jan.12 through Feb. 26, the exhibit primarily features early 20th-century images, including photo booth pictures, album pages, and snapshots. His exhibition was recently featured in The Boston Globe.

The exhibit was years in the making. As a first-year, Thompson, who is a history major, enrolled in professor Abigail Cooper’s "Social History of the Confederate States of America" course. “This was the first time I was exposed to social history, such as the historical reckonings that happened during the time of enslavement,” said Thompson.

Though Cooper’s course didn’t focus on photography, she encouraged her students to explore their interests throughout the semester. “She wanted me to focus on whatever I was interested in through the lens of the class,” said Thompson. “For me, that was my collection of photographs.”

“I spent eight hours a day looking through my photos, researching online, and purchasing photos on eBay,” he said. “I realized I had the workings of something special.”

With Cooper’s encouragement, Thompson began applying for grants to support his collection. He received funding from The Tauber Institute, Undergraduate Research and Creative Collaborations Office, and the Maurice J. and Fay B. Karpf and Ari Hahn Peace Awards. With more than $15,000 in grants, enabling him to add a number of significant images, Thompson’s collection was ready for an audience.

He created an Instagram account, and website titled “Always Been.” He soon received encouragement from the fine arts department faculty, friends, and the Black community. “I’m so grateful for the support of my friends and everyone at Brandeis,” he said. “I can see now that I’ve crafted a community of people invested in these images.”

At the time, his roommate, Robert Lozniceru ‘23, was working as a studio assistant for Vicente Cayuela ’22 at the Griffin Museum, now a content editor at Lenscratch Photography Daily. He showed Cayuela some of Thompson’s work, who then introduced him to Crista Dix, the Griffin's Executive Director. Through this connection, Thompson was able to create his own exhibition at the museum.

“Cayuela's encouragement is the reason my exhibition is happening,” said Thompson. “Without my friends and connections through Brandeis, this wouldn’t have come to life.”

“These images are a reminder to take a breath and enjoy the time around you,” said Thompson. They’re empowering because they show Black people taking their lives into their own hands.”

Categories: Alumni, Arts, General, Humanities and Social Sciences, Student Life

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