Mark Anthony Neal!

Left of Black | Black Image Makers with Shawn Michelle Smith

Prof. Mark Anthony Neal is joined by Shawn Michelle Smith as she discusses her latest publication, “Photographic Returns: Racial Justice and the Time of Photography,” which explores cutting edge Black image makers who have created new work by repurposing photography done in the past in attempts to express the complexity of Black life. Shawn Michelle Smith is Professor of Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. You can purchase the book here, published by @Duke University Press:… Learn more about the photographic work and publications of Dr. Smith here: Left of Black is a web series featuring interviews with Black Studies scholars created and hosted by James B. Duke Distinguished Professor of African and African American Studies Mark Anthony Neal and produced by the @Duke Franklin Humanities Institute. New SEASON 11 episode every Thursday! #LEFTofBLACK#JohnHopeFranklin#BlackStudies#season11#blackscholar Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) Additional footage & photography used in this episode were produced by the following: Museum of Contemporary Art – Chicago… The Metropolitan Museum of Art History of Photography Podcast… Walker Art Center Carolina Performing Arts ©John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation – used with permission… The National Gallery of Art…

a few film directors who influence me…

…..and some thoughts from their philosophical approaches to their art–not the only ones btw, just ones who stand out career-wise:

David Cronenberg:

Everybody’s a mad scientist, and life is their lab. We’re all trying to experiment to find a way to live, to solve problems, to fend off madness and chaos.
Censors tend to do what only psychotics do: they confuse reality with illusion.
I see technology as being an extension of the human body.
Sex is a doorway to something so powerful and mystical, but movies usually depict it in a completely flat way.
My cow is not pretty, but it is pretty to me.
You’re right on the money with that. We’re all like detectives in life. There’s something at the end of the trail that we’re all looking for.
I really, sincerely believe that one should trust the work, and not the author.
I have often thought it was very arrogant to suppose you could make a film for anybody but yourself.
I am certain that there are two things in life which are dependable, the delights of the flesh and the delights of literature.
Last but not least, Catherine Breillat (name drop moment: I met Catherine Breillat in the early 2000s at European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switerland–she taught a class on her film work to a class that included a small but very angry set of young, privileged white American men who spent their time trolling her instead of gaining insight on how she produced her work):
…the basic theme is the dichotomy of womanhood. the woman cut in two. every society creates laws to exercise power over women and exclude certain parts of the woman…
If I haven’t found out who I am until the end of my life…because I am afraid/ashamed of it, then I would have just pretended to live. Intimacy really means to find something out about yourself that is deep inside.
I am eternally, devastatingly romantic, and I thought people would see it because ‘romantic’ doesn’t mean ‘sugary.’ It’s dark and tormented — the furor of passion, the despair of an idealism that you can’t attain.

close up photo of camera lens

Brief thought on energy: Octavia Butler’s Mind of My Mind, and more ideas floating around on my story


Octavia Butler‘s novel Mind of My Mind, a sequel to Wild Seed, continues the story of Doro‘s frightening legacy of psychic children several generations into the 20th century.  We see how Doro, an entity who literally feeds on the essence of his enemies before overtaking their bodies, prepares Mary to use her powers to become a powerful force capable of drawing his various descendants together to form an unbreakable psychic bond.

Butler touched on something that had an echo of truth with one of the minor characters whose psychic energy depended on her ability to “feed” on her audience while posing as a minister.  For those of us who work with energy as an aspect of spiritual consciousness we have an awareness of what it means to “tap” into other people’s energy, as well as what it means to be tapped or drained by others, willingly or unwillingly.  Even those of us with a certain skepticism tend to steer away from people who “drain” our mental energy and resources with an almost instinctual reflex.  As someone who works with people as a professor I am aware of my state of mind when I step into a room to teach before I’ve opened my mouth to speak.  In order to understand my students’ collective state of mind I think it is important to feel a room’s “energy” to gauge the audience’s reception to new concepts and adjust my speed and tone of message, accordingly.  Mutual exchange becomes possible when we engage in conversation and we come away from class meetings feeling that a mutual sharing of energy has occurred.  No one comes away drained or starved.  Knowing of this process gives me a fair understanding of what can occur when the balance is somehow and inevitably shifted in an uneven sense, especially with regard to non-teaching settings, where one may be confronted by an audience who may congregate to feed upon a hapless subject, or who may be themselves a source of nourishment to a subject inclined towards draining a captive audience with a certain gluttony that resembles vampiric traits.

In the flesh-and-blood world we carry an awareness of energy that swirls around us: people, animals, plants, even seemingly inanimate objects like rocks and minerals.  Could we imagine a fictional universe where images carry energy?  Are images merely two-dimensional impressions?  Could our “reading” of facial expressions, glassy eyes, and frozen limbs reanimate the flesh, or are these impressions already filled with enough energy to impose a certain demand upon its audience to feed the origin or center of focus, the three-dimensional being now far away from the impression cast upon microbytes? Could images of people become conduits to feed the original flesh, or are they instead food for the audience? Are mutual exchanges possible under such circumstances?

I’m jumping around a bit, but I think it is important to flesh out ideas and acknowledge sources of inspiration as they emerge with my writing…what say you, my faithful few followers?  Glad to see more of you coming out of the woodwork and show love, by the way.  Gives me impetus to share more of my thoughts and not be so selfish.


Photo is from


A story I’m working on…an idea about photos, time, space…


I admit to a bit of narcissism.

It comes from a long struggle with self-esteem and insecurity about my place in this world.

Where do I fit in?  Why do I exist here right now?  What gives me the right to exist at all?

Very painful questions.  Very real and close to my heart.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I like to talk about myself even when I seem to be talking about something or someone else in my creative writing.  I suppose some might see such a trend in my academic writing as well.  A slice of my personality, my fears, my desires, my obsessions, my problems, and/or my gifts go into each and every contribution I make to the great ocean of writing both online and offline that floats around all of us.  In some sense, a piece of my essence, my ashe, my soul goes into my writing.  Is it any surprise, then, that I decided to write a story about photos, that this narrative I am building contends with the idea that our images carry a piece of soul to the larger collective consciousness?  There is a reason some cultures view photographs as taboo, while other cultures use photographs to cast sympathetic magical spells?  Is it any wonder that some people believe that a repetition of imagery can somehow project that person’s will and energy into their own space and influence their thoughts, actions, and beliefs?

My protagonist may or may not look like me.  Her or his being may not be the same race or experience.  Somewhere in that character’s trajectory lies a small piece of my own journey towards understanding human experience.  This is also Afrofuturism.