Chester Higgins (Lexington, Kentucky, 1948) is an American photographer. He spent his childhood in Brockton, Alabama and studied business management at Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) where he was mentored by P.H. Polk, the school’s photographer. Higgins Jr. graduated in 1970 and by 1975 he was working for the New York Times as a photographer while his work was being exhibited internationally. Higgins’ practice focuses on people of African descent.
With his camera, Chester wrestles with issues of memory, place and identity, he sees his life as a narrative and his photography as its expression. His art gives visual voice to his personal and collective memories. It is inside ordinary moments where he finds windows into larger meaning. Light, perspective, and points in time are the pivotal elements he uses to reveal an interior presence within his subjects as he searches for what he identifies as the Signature of the Spirit. The works of Chester Higgins challenges us to see the full breadth of our humanity. Through his portraits and studies of living rituals, traditional ceremonies and the monuments and ruins of ancient civilizations, viewers gain a rare insight into cultural behavior — a window to another place and time.
Higgins is the author of the photo collections Black Woman, Drums of Life, Some Time Ago, Feeling the Spirit: Searching the World for the People of Africa — a comprehensive look at the African Diaspora — and Elder Grace: The Nobility of Aging. His memoir entitled, Echo of the Spirit: A Photographer’s Journey and Illustrated Ancient Nubia: African Kingdoms on the Nile. Higgins photographs have appeared in ArtNews, New York Times Sunday Magazine, Look, Life, Newsweek, Fortune, Geo, The New Yorker and Archaeology. His work is the topic of two PBS films, “An American Photographer: Chester Higgins Jr.,” and “Brotherman” and has been featured on CBS: “Sunday Morning News,” PBS: “The NewsHour,” ABC: “Like It Is,” and “Freedom Forum.”
His solo exhibitions have appeared at the International Center of Photography, The Smithsonian Institution, The Museum of African Art, The Museum of Photographic Arts, The Schomburg Center, The Newark Museum, National Civil Rights Museum, The Field Museum of History, The New-York Historical Society, the Windows Gallery/Kimmel Center of New York University, The Dapper Museum in Paris and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
He is the recipient of grants from The Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the International Center of Photography, the Open Society Institute, The National Endowment for the Arts and the Andy Warhol Foundation (ICP). He recently retired from The New York Times as a staff photographer after 38 years of contributing images to the paper.
For learn more about the artist, see his website; www.chesterhiggins.com #chesterhiggins12 and chesterhigginsarchives.com
“My choice of the American flag is because for my people it represents a false ideal. I wanted to strip away its mirage, its symbolism of inclusiveness and freedom and show it as the agency of division and oppression that it is.”
There are a lot of great things about America — racial tolerance is not one of them. For my people, every day in America is a fight for recognition. Each day is a pushback against the desire of ‘white power matter’ to ignore us, deny us, abuse us, render us invisible and exterminate us gradually by over policing.
In the wake of the ‘I can’t breathe movement’ I searched for a way to render a photographic equivalent on the state of affairs in which we find ourselves living inside deadly white America.
With this image I wanted to illustrate how the lines of the American flag represent incarcerating bars of denial to liberty and freedom. Due to our interrupted history it also reinforces the awful truth; we African-Americans are Africans without memory and Americans without rights.
In this deadly environment, our salvation means that we must develop new options that will produce a new future of our making. Surrendering to the evil around us is not an option. Fighting back and persevering until this system is demolished is the only way forward. America is a push back world. Only winning strategies and capable allies can change the narrative and ensure our safety.
My flag image looks at the same situation from two different points of view. One view is of the Black hand being held back. I prefer the view of the Black hand beginning to tear the bars aside. A pivotal moment whose time has come.
Chester Higgins, 25 April 21
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