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How This Photographer Confronts The Freedoms Denied To Black Americans

In early December, on a marrow-chilling Friday morning, I was on the phone with the thirtysomething photographer Nona Faustine when my mind began to deviate somewhere else entirely. Midway through our conversation, I’d asked Faustine to characterize the position of the contemporary black woman in America. “Where does she sit in history?” I asked. What followed was a response so exceptional, a sentiment so achingly true and familiar, it never ceases to shock. I instantly began to think of the black women who orbit my life. “It’s been such a sad journey,” she said, “I’m very proud of us because we’re survivors and we’re achievers. I don’t think that the landscape of America would look the way it does without black women in it.”

Much of Faustine’s self-portraiture — often a daringly keen interrogation of selfhood, power, and history — works to probe the relationship black Americans have to the land on which they perish and stand. Her most famous set of compositions to date is White Shoes, an ongoing series where Faustine, almost always nude and wearing white heels, is photographed at former slave sites in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Together, the images challenge the very principles and ideologies of the country’s founding — first they force you to remember, and then to never forget...

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