Ralph Ellison: PhotographerRegular price $60.00
Ralph Ellison is a leading figure in American literature, hailed for his seminal novel Invisible Man (1952), a breakthrough representation of the American experience and Black everyday life. Lesser known, however, is his lifelong engagement with photography. Photographer is the first book dedicated to Ellison’s extensive work in the medium, which spans the 1930s to the ’90s.
Throughout his life, photography played multiple roles for Ellison: a hobby, a source of income, a note-taking tool and an artistic outlet. During his formative years in New York City in the 1940s, he keenly photographed his surroundings—at times alongside fellow photographer Gordon Parks—with many images serving as field notes for his writing. In the last decades of his life, as he grappled with his much-anticipated second novel, Ellison turned inward, and he studied his private universe at home with a Polaroid camera. At all times his photography reveals an artist steeped in modernist thinking who embraced experimentation to interpret the world around him, particularly Black life in America.
In a 1956 letter to fellow writer Albert Murray, Ellison underscored photography’s importance to his creative process: "You know me, I have to have something between me and reality when I’m dealing with it most intensely." Accompanying the photographs in this book are several essays situating Ellison’s work within his broader career as a writer, as well an excerpt from his 1977 essay "The Little Man at Chehaw Station: The American Artist and His Audience."