Dr. Warren Crichlow is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at York University Toronto, Canada where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in areas of social foundations and cultural studies and education. He is a co-editor of Race, Identify and Education (1993 and 2005), and a co-editor of the forthcoming Spaces of New Colonialism: Reading Schools, Museums and Cities in the Tumult of Globalization (forthcoming Peter Lang, 2019). His review essay, “Baldwin’s Rendezvous with the Twenty-first century: I am Not Your Negro,” appears in the summer 2017 issue of Film Quarterly. Current projects include co-editorship of a collection of essays on W. G. Sebald (1944-2001) and education, Unsettling Complacency: Hope and Ethical Responsibility in the Writing of W. G. Sebald, and a monograph whose working title is “Extra-curriculars: Multiple Histories, Aesthetic Experimentalism and Willful Subjectivity,” a project concerned with extra-curricular learning from writers and artists.
This lecture will explore the cultural and political agency of James Baldwin’s image, mobilized in various media, to include photographs, archival footage, and documentary films, and to a lesser extent narrative feature film, in order to examine how these archival traces authorize or deprive contemporary understanding of the writer’s continuing significance, thirty-two years after his death, for twenty-first century cultural critique of race and power logics. While keeping in mind the repertoire of available photo-based image work in which Baldwin the man, the writer and the myth, as well as Baldwin’s own sustained incisive critical engagement with photography and film as modes of aesthetic narration, several key exemplars will be discussed to include: Baldwin’s collaborative photo-essay with Richard Avedon, Nothing Personal (1964), which Hilton Als (2017) maintains that Avedon’s photographs approximate Baldwin’s writing, where “layered narratives no camera can expose or explain, or entirely reveal;” Second, Sedat Pakay’s short film, James Baldwin: From Another Place (1973/2007), wherein Baldwin’s fleshy body and psychic thoughts comingle during an early 1970s stay in Istanbul; and the revivified return of the Baldwin figure through popular globally marketed contemporary films, specifically Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro (2017) and Barry Jenkin’s film adaptation of Baldwin’s late novel, If Beale Street Could Talk (2018). Yet the compelling question remains: does the labour of deliberation these images demand for grasping the sensory and political possibilities of Baldwin’s image today remain solely within the frame? The implicit aim here is to solicit discussion of the visualization of Baldwin today, in its global circulation, and its potentiality –be it political, aesthetic or cultural – particularly in South Africa.