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Studio Reflections with LaMont Hamilton

LaMont Hamilton, Sonia Sanchez, 2012. (Image courtesy of LaMont Hamilton Photography.)

Time and time again we have seen efforts to expose the artist’s studio through exhibitions, open studios and technology (photos, videos, etc.), but still the studio processes of many artists remain concealed. Many of the attempts, errors, and experiments are locked within studio walls, and hidden out of view behind the final work. This piece, as part of an ongoing series of studio reflections, gives us a chance to take a look at the thoughts and methods of several artists working in many different mediums. The following is a look into a journal entry of photographer LaMont Hamilton after legendary activist and poet Sonia Sanchez sat for him as part of his 75 Portraits project in March 2012.

Throughout my travels and portrait sittings for 75 Portraits I’ve journaled about my experiences, portrait sessions, travels, etc. as well as collected mementos, most of which will be included in the 75 Portraits book. Below is from my journal entry after Sonia Sanchez sat for a portrait:

LaMont Hamilton’s Studio, 2012. (Image courtesy of the artist.)

She relayed the story of while she was a professor at CUNY, Mrs. Shirley Graham DuBois, wife of W.E.B DuBois was present at one of her lectures. While speaking on Dr. DuBois and others she recalled a student raising her hand and asking if this was going to be on the exam.  Sonia retorted, “Yes, the exam of life”. This is when Mrs. DuBois came to the front and addressed the class by saying, “This little lady here saved my husband from obscurity. She helped make his work relevant again” This was the moment when it all hit her. Before it was a passion project rescuing the DuBois, the Garveys the Richard Wrights et al from the oblivion institutions tried to place them in. Making they’re work relevant. That’s all. But Mrs. DuBois words gave shape to the relevance and form the accomplishment. She recalled how this revelation hit her and she hugged Mrs. DuBois and started to cry. They shared that embrace in front of the class.  How fantastic would it have been to be there in that room at that moment, keeping each other relevant. That’s our responsibility as artists, as Black artists. Allowing that fire to fuel other fires until we are burning with a greatness which will fuel the next generation of small flames who will, in turn, become even greater flames than ourselves. That’s what it’s about. And that’s one of the things Sonia Sanchez taught me.

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LaMont Hamilton is a Chicago-based photographer who is currently completing a residency at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, Nebraska as part of the Midwestern Voices and Vision Award from the Alliance of Artists Communities and the Joyce Foundation.  Currently, he has an active fundraising campaign on USA Projects in order to turn his dream of making 75 Portraits into a book and a traveling exhibition into a reality.  For more information about 75 Portraits, visit www.usaprojects.org/project/75_portraits.

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