"EVERYWHERE with Roy Lewis"

Shantella Y. Sherman | 8/12/2010, 12:53 p.m.

Everyday Life at Gallery 110 showcases the masterful eye of Roy Lewis Photo by Maurice Fitzgerald
Exhibit at Gallery 110 Showcases Photographer's Masterful Eye

There are only 35 pictures in the current exhibit by photographer Roy Lewis at Gallery 110 in Brentwood, Md., but one need only to glimpse two silver gelatin prints of Everyday Life that feature River Road residents of Louisiana on the Mississippi, to bear witness to Lewis' ability to capture and captivate.

Lewis' shutter grabs the baby blue ring around the iris of Black elders' eyes, the interlocking curls of stark-white Black hair, and the hidden expressions of everyday Black life in as little as a smirk. The photographs are haunting, and beautifully so. They are also oddly familiar and stirring.
The exhibit, "EVERYWHERE with Roy Lewis", which will eventually include more than 300 photographs, opened at The Gateway Arts Center July 9 and will run through mid-September. For Lewis, whose work has spanned more than 50 years and captured both intimate and candid images of Black life, being able to document "blackness" is crucial.

"Ever since Black people were emancipated in this country, they have been trying to find themselves and their loss relatives. That is what family reunions are all about - recapturing something that seems to be lost. With my work, my goal is to bring about a reunion of sorts between Black people and the cultures and experiences that once shaped our ancestors," Lewis said.

"Black people - especially young Black people are not learning about themselves. This exhibit is about who they are. My life's work is about who we are. When you are able to stand on who we are you can go out in the world and not feel apologetic." - Roy Lewis. Pictured above is David Driskell sitting in his studio in Hyattsville, Md. Photo by Roy Lewis
He believes that being a Mississippian has definitely prepared him to view the world and his place in it with compassion and a sense of duty.

"Anyone who grows up in Mississippi has a different view of the world. We had teachers who prepared us. You cannot find too many unsuccessful Mississippians. They are fighters, they are warriors," Lewis said. "Black people - especially young Black people are not learning about themselves. This exhibit is about who they are. My life's work is about who we are. When you are able to stand on who we are you can go out in the world and not feel apologetic," he said.

Lewis' life lessons came quickly and as a result of traveling to Chicago at 19, a graduate of the Class of 1956. He said his godmother, Mattie B. Frazier, had taught Johnson Publishing founder John H. Johnson and aided his entree into shooting for Ebony and Jet magazines. Inspired by fellow Johnson photographer Maurice Sorrell, Lewis said he was never afraid to speak up or speak out.

"I got put out of so many classes because the teacher would say something and I would ask 'why.' I knew how to run my mouth, but also how to defend and protect myself. Even now, I want to put my work out there, but with protections around it so that things cannot be stolen and used without my permission or in an arbitrary manner," Lewis said.

Lewis is no stranger to exhibits or misused properties. His first show in the District, Black and Beautiful took place in 1967 as a part of the New School of Afro-American Thought project. Forty-three years later, Lewis is equally as passionate about exposing Black history through photographs to younger audiences.

Marcelas Owens standing alongside Barack Obama during the signing of the 2010 Health Care bill. Photo by Roy Lewis "It is so important to get kids into the gallery to see the works. Think of how a young African- American child feels when he sees Marcelas Owens standing alongside Barack Obama on the wall. They see that little guy with the President and can relate to him as if it were them up there now - but also seeing that they could be the president one day as well," Lewis said.

Steven Newsome, the director of the Prince George's County African American Museum is familiar with Lewis' work and decided to host an exhibit after seeing Lewis' In the Arms of Elders exhibit. Fellow photographers also hold him in the highest esteem.

Sharon Farmer, former director of White House photography during both Clinton administrations, met Lewis in the late 1970s as a member of the professional photographer's guild, The Exposure Group.

"Roy has been everywhere and has taken pictures of almost everyone who is Black and prominent. The thing I like about Roy's exhibit is that it is positive and that is the only way he will shoot things. He tried to stay away from the negative because he wants to show the better side of Black life," Farmer said.

So what's next on the radar for Roy Lewis? He's traveled to almost every continent and photographed many well-known and respected Black leaders, and is now looking forward to returning to an old passion - documentary filmmaking.

Among Lewis' documentary works is the 20-minute film on Gwendolyn Brooks, titled, Riding and Striding, Reaching and Teaching, (1970), an interview with the Honorable Elijah Muhammad used in the documentary, A Nation of Common Sense, (1970), and a work on urban novelist Iceberg Slim.

Roy Lewis and his family - son Khayan Lewis (l), Roy Lewis, daughter Tasha Lewis and granddaughter Safe Lewis. Photo by Jacqueline Daughtery.

"I have got to go to the Brazil. My ancestors are waiting on me. I also want to go to Cuba. I shoot in the narrative - I write with pictures. I shoot a lot because I am a filmmaker documenting life. That is how you teach. I want to get back to making documentaries," Lewis said.

"Being Black is still an infant. This work, like all of my work is about the birth and growth of blackness. It is a dialogue."

For more information on EVERYWHERE with Roy Lewis, visit http://www.pgaamcc.org/