The first documentary to explore the role of photography in shaping the identity, aspirations and social emergence of African Americans from slavery to the present, Through a Lens Darkly probes the recesses of American history by discovering images that have been suppressed, forgotten and lost.
Bringing to light the hidden and unknown photos shot by both professional and vernacular African American photographers, the film opens a window into lives, experiences and perspectives of black families that is absent from the traditional historical canon. These images show a much more complex and nuanced view of American culture and society and its founding ideals.
Inspired by Deborah Willis's book Reflections in Black and featuring the works of Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson, Anthony Barboza, Hank Willis Thomas, Coco Fusco, Clarissa Sligh and many others, Through a Lens Darkly introduces the viewer to a diverse yet focused community of storytellers who transform singular experiences into a communal journey of discovery - and a call to action.
Outstanding Documentary - Theatrical, NAACP Image Award 2015
Best Diaspora Documentary, Africa Movie Academy awards 2014
"An extraordinary new documentary by filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris, is at-once a deep, rich dive into the history of African American photography and -- transcending the subject at hand -- a master class in visual literacy." - Mia Tramz, Time Magazine
"CRITIC'S PICK! To describe Thomas Allen Harris's 'Through a Lens Darkly' as a history of African-American photography would be accurate but incomplete. Inspired by the book "Reflections in Black", Deborah Willis's groundbreaking and thorough excavation of a vital and neglected photographic tradition, Mr. Harris's film is a family memoir, a tribute to unsung artists and a lyrical, at times heartbroken, meditation on imagery and identity. The film is always absorbing to watch, but only once it's over do you begin to grasp the extent of its ambitions, and just how much it has done within a packed, compact hour and a half. Overall, he is a wise and passionate guide to an inexhaustibly fascinating subject." - A. O. Scott, The New York Times
"A rich, moving documentary...dense with both information and purpose. The film is an expansive, fast-moving look at the African American experience since slavery, canvassing everything from the media savvy of figures like Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth to the ways that contemporary black identity has been corroded by consumerism. A who's-who from academia and the visual-arts world weighs in with historical context and pungent analysis." - Ernest Hardy, LA Weekly
"One of the most important and necessary documentaries of the year." - Indiewire
"A timely reminder of how images of African-Americans have been stereotyped and demonized by popular media... cannily juggles an overview of African-American history in general with the specifics of its photographic representation and talents...Harris sometimes echoes the work of his late mentor Marlon Riggs ('Tongues Untied') in poetic editorial rhythms." - Dennis Harvey, Variety
"In his new documentary, filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris lays out the thesis that black people in this country have mostly been seen through the eyes of white image makers who have infused popular culture with Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, Darkie toothpaste, The Birth of a Nation and more. Harris shows how these images have long conditioned our collective subconscious, informing our attitudes toward black people and often black people's attitudes toward themselves. As Through a Lens Darkly demonstrates, it's only through the eyes of black photographers that we see differently. With the thousand words vividly painted through each picture, we connect, identify and find solidarity. Some of the black photographers' works here are breathtaking. But there's so much more to take away from Harris' documentary. It unequivocally confirms the necessity of diversity in media, the business of image making." - Martin Tsai, The Los Angeles Times
"Engrossing...entrancing...well-crafted. The old saw about a picture being worth a thousand words indicates the extraordinary power of the images 'Through a Lens Darkly' organizes so thoughtfully and compellingly." - Godfrey Cheshire, RogerEbert.com
"Powerful... worth seeing just for the amazing archival footage, a marvelous collection of black-and-white and color photographs that show how a people can reclaim their image and validate their culture in the face of extreme prejudice." - Mark Rifkin, This Week in New York
"This documentary offers a much-needed correction to the historical record, where images of African-Americans -- and Africans themselves -- often resorted to offensive tableaux that not only demeaned their subjects, but also denied them their basic humanity." - David Gonzalez, The New York Times
If you are a student or a professor:Watch now
If you are a librarian or a professor: