Corrections or additions?

This article by Tricia Fagan was prepared for the May 15, 2002

edition of

U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Lou Draper: Bringing a World Into Focus

Almost half a century ago — inspired by Edward

Steichen’s historic "Family of Man" exhibition —

photographer

Louis Draper set out to identify, name, and celebrate the human

community

as he found it. His camera, intelligence, and personal grace gained

him access to places, individuals, and events all over the world,

from Harlem to Moscow. Wherever he went he documented subtle, fleeting

moments of humanity in black and white photographs of great beauty.

When Lou Draper died this past February, he left behind hundreds of

those images. His friends and colleagues, determined to publish a

book of his life’s work, are hosting a gala art auction featuring

paintings, photographs, ceramics, and prints donated by some of the

region’s most sought-after visual artists, as well as goods and

services

from many area businesses and restaurants — and the public is

invited to attend. Proceeds from the event will go to produce a book

of Draper’s photography. Profits from the sale of the book will go

to a memorial scholarship in Draper’s name. Mel Leipzig, artist, MCCC

painting professor, and long-time friend says, "It’s imperative

that Lou’s work be preserved. He was an extraordinary photographer.

Among his many images are portraits of some of the most important

figures of our time, including Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, Jacqueline

Kennedy Onassis, and Miles Davis."

The benefit fundraiser — co-sponsored by MCCC and the Trenton

Artists Workshop Association (TAWA) — will be Sunday, May 19,

from 2 to 5 p.m., in the Student Center of Mercer County College,

West Windsor campus. The event will feature both a live and silent

auction, refreshments, and music by Jim Kelly’s band. Suggested

donation

is $10.

Louis Hansel Draper was born in 1935 in Richmond, Virginia, the first

of Hansel and Dorothy Draper’s two children. He and his sister Nell

grew up surrounded by family and an active church community. Draper

pursued classic childhood activities that included baseball,

basketball,

Boy Scouts, Sunday school, and choir. His cousin recalled recently

that even as a young boy Lou demonstrated the even-handed, gentlemanly

demeanor that was to become his trademark.

Draper began taking photographs while attending Virginia State College

in the 1950s, but it wasn’t until he saw an early copy of "The

Family of Man" catalog that he recognized his calling. The

photographs

galvanized him. Determined suddenly to focus on photography, he

dropped

out of college. Equipped with his camera — a gift from his father

— he moved to New York City. There he sought out Harold Feinstein

and W. Eugene Smith and studied with each of them in private

workshops.

His efforts soon attracted critical recognition. In 1959 Draper gained

national attention when his work, included in the historic

"Photography

at Mid-Century" exhibition at the George Eastman House, was

singled

out for praise by curator and historian Beaumont Newhall. The

following

year his photographs were shown by Larry Siegel at Image Gallery.

Early on, much of Draper’s work incorporated the new "snapshot

esthetic" then evolving among American photographers of the 1960s.

His photographs from this period — whether of New York City

streets

or moments from the Civil Rights movement — combine the immediacy

and lack of artifice of a snapshot with the clear eye and skilled

framing of earlier documentary photographers. Erina Duganne from the

University of Texas at Austin argues that Draper’s relevance and

contribution

to the development of this unique documentary approach during this

pivotal time has yet to be fully acknowledged and appreciated.

Even at this early stage, many of Draper’s key interests as a

photographer

were clearly established. Although he made many beautiful still lifes

and nature studies, it is in works that seize the human gesture within

an environment that he shines. "He was able to catch that special

moment that captured the essence of the person he was

photographing,"

says Gary Saretzky, archivist and a colleague at Mercer. Jeffrey Hoone

from Light Work says, "Photography is a medium of access . . .

Photographers can be invited into the lives of strangers — and

sometimes they locate and describe the meaning of community and the

formation of character, like the photographs of Lou Draper."

In 1963, Draper joined several other New York-based

African-American photographers to found a ground-breaking collective,

the Kamoinge Workshop. The group, which continues to this day, met

regularly to discuss work, techniques, to arrange exhibitions, run

a gallery, and publish. Draper’s personal vision for his work is

clearly

reflected in Kamoinge’s stated mission to "produce significant

visual images of our time in the area of relationships, political,

and social interaction, and the spiritual world of pure imagery."

In 1967 Draper began teaching photography in New York City public

schools as an artist hired through an anti-poverty project. Years

later, he recalled it as one of the most inspiring jobs of his career.

He returned to college, completing his B.A. through Thomas Edison

College and receiving an M.F.A. from NYU’s Institute for Film and

Television.

In 1982, after several years as a freelance photographer (including

a stint as in-house photographer for Honeywell), Draper joined the

visual arts faculty at MCCC as professor and photography program

coordinator.

He was a popular teacher, although his legendary calm was sometimes

threatened by talented students who did not work to their potential.

Today many established photographers in the region and around the

world (at least one in Australia) cite Draper as a major influence

both in their development as photographers and in their decision to

pursue photography as a career. His support of former students was

generous and unwavering. Two years ago, when I offered a gallery show,

he asked me to look at the work of one of his former students instead.

When the student’s work was on display, Lou shamelessly promoted the

exhibit, beaming like a proud father at the opening reception.

Although he never married, Draper had a long-time relationship with

Dorothy Gloster, and was a loving and supportive godfather to her

son Brandon. Throughout his life he continued his involvement with

communities of artists. In addition to his work as part of the college

community, he was also an active member of TAWA — taking part

in the 1995 "Trenton Takes: 24 Hours in the City" project,

and representing the group in their artists exchange with Moscow.

Draper was also an artist-in-residence at Light Work, the non-profit

photo and imaging center in Syracuse, New York. One of his later,

personal projects was his New Jersey Artists series that included

portraits of artists Bernarda Bryson Shahn and Adolf Konrad in their

studios.

Lou Draper was a gifted, deeply human man, one whose innate compassion

resonated with the hidden lives of those he photographed, and one

whose artistic gift allowed him to capture and share some of the most

subtle moments he experienced. "For me, the experience of making

art is often a magical one, rich in the sensory pleasure of

discovery,"

Draper once said. "I will never be able to make graphically

tangible

most of what photography has caused me to experience . . .

participation

in it has led me to worlds of interest which I believe would have

lain dormant otherwise."

If Draper’s devoted friends have their way, some day soon we can all

share these magical experiences through his published work.

— Tricia Fagan

Lou Draper Benefit Auction, Mercer County College,

Student Center, West Windsor, 609-586-4800, ext. 3353. $10 donation.

Sunday, May 19, 2 to 5 p.m.

Author Tricia Fagan is curator of the Gallery at Mercer

County Community College.


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