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Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe - Oral History

"I met with Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe in the late afternoon of a mild October day in an office building in mid-town where the Arthur Ashe Learning Center (AALC) is located. This trailblazing photographer and author of Daufuskie Island (1982) and Viewfinders: Black Women Photographers (1993), Daddy and Me (1993), and African Flower: Singing of Angels (2001) was seated at her desk busy with the details of her newest project, the AALC, which focuses on educating, motivating and inspiring youth. She is no stranger to devotion and commitment. These are the principles that she has always employed in every venture of her life from personal to professional. In fact, her astounding purposefulness has created a space where there is no distinction between the two. All of her work is profoundly intimate.

"Moutoussamy-Ashe found her path to the arts at the early age of eight through the encouragement of her mother, an interior designer, and her father, an architect who enrolled her in children’s art classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. About ten years later, at the age of eighteen, she discovered her love of the camera and the power of her voice from behind its lens when family friend Frank Stewart first introduced her to photography. She studied with renowned photographer Gary Winogrand and at Cooper Union. For Moutoussamy-Ashe, the camera offered her the opportunity to bring awareness to the lives of others, a practice she developed on her eye-opening independent study in West Africa and continued in her 1977 book project on the inhabitants of Daufuskie Island. Her focus also has included a 146-year history of black women photographers in her book project Viewfinders, and a personal perspective in her visual memoir of her daughter and late-husband in Daddy and Me: A Photo Story of Arthur Ashe and his Daughter Camera. For Moutoussamy-Ashe, photography is always autobiographical, as the image speaks from the photographer’s point of view.

"In her practice, Moutoussamy-Ashe believes photography holds the potential to bring social change through awareness. She carries this sense of responsibility into her role as an educator, having led classes on visual literacy and in directing the Arthur Ashe Learning Center. Her priority at the AALC is to give opportunities to youth that help develop their talent—to instill in young people the kindred spirit of imagination and creativity that transforms lives—something both she and Arthur Ashe benefitted from at an early age."

—Kalia Brooks

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