Don’t Mess with Texas.

Exline Park, R. C. Hickman (1955)
Exline Park by R. C. Hickman (1955)
From the R. C. Hickman Photographic Archive at the
Center for American History, the University of Texas at Austin

I’m giving you really short notice, as this show will only be up until Sunday, March 8. But if you’re anywhere near the Irving Arts Center (3333 N. MacArthur Blvd) in Irving TX between now and then, make it your business to stop by and see Behold the People: R.C. Hickman’s Photographs of Black Dallas, which features 56 black and white photographs from his eponymous archive at the University of Texas at Austin.

For those who, like I, had never heard of the man,

Hickman, who passed away Dec. 1, 2007, was a Dallas photographer whose thousands of images produced from 1949 to 1961 document aspects of life in the African American community in Texas. His historically-significant photographs depict a community that was thoroughly a part of mainstream America by virtue of accomplishment, but largely invisible to white Americans because of race. …

R.C. Hickman self-portrait, in his studioHickman [right] worked as a commercial portrait photographer; a photojournalist for several black newspapers in Dallas including The Dallas Star Post and the Express; a freelance photographer for national Black publications such as Jet, Sepia and Ebony; and a photographer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). His images reveal his awareness of a community within which individuals survive, grow and understand themselves.

Exline Park / summer in the pool,” atop this post, shot crisply on a large, 4×5 B&W negative, immediately caught my eye with the warm and natural expressions of its young subjects, gorgeously rendered in the palette of white, black, and midtones that make monochromatic films so beautifully expressive.

Also, as I’ve long thought, nature truly conserves faces. Every one of those kids looks like someone you know or have seen, and, save for the bulbous background cars, or the girls’ swimwear details, this fresh, delightful image could have been created six months from now, not over 50 years ago.

“Lionel Hampton for Good Pub Co.” by R.C. HickmanHickman donated his photographs, like this one of, right, of vibraphonist Lionel Hampton’s band, to the University of Texas at Austin in 1985, over 20 years before his death. As well as making one guess at what other wonders of Black culture are moldering in attics or file cabinets around the planet, his gift strengthens a personal conviction I’ve long held: It is critical that Black history and its material culture be preserved.

Those who’ve closely regarded my own work may know that, for years, I’ve urged the founding of a cultural organization that would capture, preserve, and explain hip-hop culture, as a way of correctly contextualizing it for history. It’s a work from which I’d backed off in recent years, but am now starting to give some revived and needed urgency, and the labors of a little-known Black photographer, shooting well what he knew, gives me, and I hope you, some necessary courage in that important task.


1 comment so far ↓

#1 tracey new on 03.03.09 at 7:40 pm

I am familiar with his work Harry. In fact, I helped write his bio for his funeral program. My close friend Jesse Hornbuckle (who is one of my Facebook friends) was mentored by Mr. Hickman. Jesse is in our age bracket and has won a Pulitzer Prize for his photography.


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