MSU LIBRARIES PARTNERSHIP BRINGS 'UNFRAMED IMAGES' LECTURE, EXHIBITION TO CHARLESTONBy SASHA STEINBERG,
STARKVILLE — Mississippi State University Libraries, in partnership with Tuskegee University and the MSU-based Southern Literary Trail, is presenting a lecture and exhibition this week to celebrate the work of acclaimed African American photographer P.H. Polk.
On Friday, Aug. 30, Tuskegee University Archivist Dana Chandler will discuss Polk’s photographs during a 6 p.m. program at the Charleston Arts and Revitalization Effort, 1 North Market St. in Charleston. Following the presentation, a reception will take place to celebrate the opening of “Unframed Images,” on display at CARE through Sept. 6.
Digitally enlarged and reproduced from Polk’s original works, the images were featured earlier this year in a similar showing at MSU’s Old Main Academic Center.
A native of Bessemer, Alabama, Polk opened his first studio in Tuskegee, Alabama, in 1927. In 1928, he was appointed to the faculty of the then-Tuskegee Institute’s photography department, where he served as department head from 1933 to 1938. In 1939, he operated his own studio in Atlanta, Georgia, before returning a year later to Tuskegee to serve as the college’s official photographer while continuing to run his own studio.
Polk’s photographs depict early 20th-century African Americans from all walks of life, including Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington Carver, and farm workers in rural Alabama. Housed in Tuskegee’s archives, the images have been exhibited at leading museums and galleries throughout the country.
Along with being a trained archivist and historian, Chandler is a Tuskegee assistant professor. He has served in a variety of roles within the private and public sectors as a surveyor, civil engineer and project manager, helping to design and build projects across the South and nation. He also has worked with corporations wanting to start up recycling facilities in the U.S. and Latin America.
“The ‘Unframed Images’ exhibition has garnered interest from several institutions,” said Sarah McCullough, MSU Libraries coordinator of cultural heritage projects. “As a joint project of MSU Libraries and Tuskegee, in partnership with the Southern Literary Trail, we are pleased that CARE is the first entity outside of the university to host the exhibition.”
McCullough said MSU Libraries’ collaboration with CARE on the project came about through the university’s ties with renowned costume designer Myrna Colley-Lee. More than a decade ago, Colley-Lee generously donated to MSU vintage costumes and clothing amassed throughout her 40-year professional career as a costume designer. Also consisting of actual pieces dating from the 1920s to the present, the collection is housed at the university’s Mitchell Memorial Library.
CARE Director Carol Roark said her organization is honored to host an exhibition of Polk’s work.
“Polk was an artist ahead of his time. He never let all the odds stack against him or stand between him and his passion for photography,” she said. “He is as much of a role model now as he was then.”
Based at MSU Libraries, the Southern Literary Trail project pays tribute to writers of classic literature in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. For more, follow on Facebook @southernliterarytrail.
IN THE PHOTO: “Mildred Hanson Baker” by P.H. Polk (Photo submitted)