2011
06.07

The University of Oregon will also begin hosting the exhibitions “Shall We Dance?” and “Track Town, USA,” during the week of June 20

EUGENE, Ore. — The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Arts presents selections from Brian Lanker’s “I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America,” on view from June 21-Sept. 11, 2011 in the Focus Gallery.

Lanker passed away in March 2011, soon after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The JSMA honors the life of the Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer by showcasing photographs from the exhibition that originally debuted in Washington, D.C., in 1988 and showed at the UO Museum of Art in 1991.

Twenty-eight portraits are featured in the exhibition representing women from the fields of entertainment, literature, sports, and politics and the civil rights movement, including Rosa Parks, Toni Morrison, Coretta Scott King, Ruby Dee, Maya Angelou, Septima Poinsette Clark, and Althea Gibson. The book and original exhibition focused on the lives of 75 women.

Brian Lanker had long felt that the contributions of black women to society and history were unnoticed. Influenced by Barbara Jordan’s riveting speech at the 1976 Democratic National Convention and Alice Walker’s life, after reading her book “The Color Purple,” Lanker began a two-year-long project to document and honor these and other special black women.

“I really did it more for history,” Lanker once said, “and thought it was important to have a book like this around 50 or 75 years from now so that people could look back and understand whose shoulders they were standing on.”

Using his personal knowledge and with access to “LIFE” magazine’s extensive archive, additional research at the Schomberg Center in Harlem, New York, and help from The National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Lanker selected the 75 women to photograph and interview.

“As the project progressed, an assumption I had made did not hold up,” Lanker writes in the book.”Though I wanted to come into these women’s lives, I was not sure they would care to open their worlds and sometimes fragile pasts to me. I was pleased and surprised that not once in the course of two years of work was I ever left feeling alienated or distant because of my race and gender. I had also anticipated that the road for many of these women had been hard, but I was not prepared for the full brunt of the harshness. I was often left shocked by their experiences. There were times when some reached deep into their past, recalling some of the most painful memories of all. Tears were shared, but much laughter was shared as well.”

An overwhelming public response turned what was originally slated as a two-year national exhibition into an international touring exhibition that set attendance records at museums across the country.

Lanker’s work is also included in the JSMA’s Pape Reception Hall as part of “Track Town, USA,” photographs shot by Lanker, Rich Clarkson and others, featuring Hayward Field track athletes and coaches. “Track Town, USA” is on view from June 21 to August 28, 2011.

The University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History will also be showing works from Lanker in “A Tribute Exhibition: Shall We Dance? Photographs by Brian Lanker” from Wednesday, June 22 through Sunday, Sept. 4, 2011. From the controlled beauty of classical ballet to the vivacity of salsa, dance can be found in nearly every culture on Earth. “Shall We Dance” is the result of Lanker’s year of travel across the United States, documenting the huge variety of styles (from tap to tango, salsa to swing) and dancers he encountered. What began as a photo-essay for “National Geographic” soon expanded into a vast documentary project, which includes interviews with dancers from all corners of the globe. “Shall We Dance” celebrates dance’s diversity of culture and capacity to express every emotion imaginable. More information can be found at natural-history.uoregon.edu.

Lanker began his career as a newspaper photographer at the “Phoenix Gazette,” before joining the “Topeka Capital-Journal” in 1969. In 1973, when he was 25, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Photography for “Moment of Life,” an essay about natural childbirth. His subject was Lynda Coburn, whom Lanker married in 1974. Lanker moved to Eugene in 1974 for a position as the photographer at “The Register-Guard” but soon become the paper’s graphics director and stayed there until 1982, when he went free lance, taking on commercial work as well as a film documentary, “They Drew Fire: Combat Artists of WWII,” shown on PBS in 2000.

— The University of Oregon

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  1. “I Dream a World” -one of the best photography books that I have. Excellent! I live in Jerusalem, Israel. I grew up in Wichita Kansas. I relate to Topeka.