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‘Start from the heart’: Black photographer Adger Cowans, life and times

Ali & Stevie, 1975 / Adger Cowans

“I don’t photograph anything that doesn’t move me. Whatever you are translates to your photos, therefore start from the heart,” says the globetrotting photographer Adger Cowans. His work, along with that of his fellow members of Kamoinge, a Black photographers’ workshop founded in 1963 that gathered some 14 artists together, is currently on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum. Born in 1936, Cowans is the oldest member of the group and has been their president for the past ten years. Kamoinge, incidentally, is not purely a historical phenomenon: it is still functioning 59 years later, making it the most durable group in the history of photography!

The show of two hundred black and white photographs is entitled Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop. “Kamoinge” (kuh-moyn-gay) comes from the Kikuyu people of Kenya and translates as “a group of people acting and working together.” In the 1960s, they viewed black and white as the supreme art, dismissing color photography as belonging to the commercial world.

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