Shawn Walker at Steven Kasher Gallery

Art Scene

Shawn Walker at Steven Kasher Gallery

Photographer, Shawn Walker, a native of Harlem who still lives there, is a founding member of the black photography collective, the Kamoinge Workshop. Established in the early 1960s, the group has stood the test of time. Several of its long-term members are now receiving overdue recognition in the photography and fine art scene, the most recent of which is Walker, whose surrealist-influenced work is currently on view in a self-titled exhibition at Steven Kasher Gallery.

Shawn Walker, Untitled (from the Harlem series), Harlem, New York, ca. 1980

Courtesy Steven Kasher Gallery, New York

Walker’s commitment to nearly 50 years of membership in the collective suggests a strong predilection for community building. In fact, his work is conceptually grounded in what he describes as a black aesthetic. “The Black aesthetic starts from a culture, a race. It should be important to the community it comes out of. It should be empowering. It should be of use to this community. It is extremely important for me to work from the Black aesthetic. It is a tradition,” Walker says, also noting that “…the Black aesthetic is a vast aesthetic.”

To understand the plethora of creativity he is referencing, all one has to do is to look at the diversity of black artistic influences on Walker’s work: photographers Roy de Carava and Herbery Randall; fine artists Charles White, Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence; avant-garde jazz musicians John Coltrane and Lee Morgan; and, novelist Ralph Ellison and his seminal work, Invisible Man.

Shawn Walker, Untitled (from the Puerto Rican Day Parade series), 44th Street, New York City, New York, 1970 Courtesy Steven Kasher Gallery, New York

The Stephen Kasher Gallery’s voluminous space is filled with more than 100 photographs shot by Walker between the 1960s and the 1990s. It is an extensive body of work organized to some degree through groups of images shot in series over decades, including: the Harlem Series, the Puerto Rican Day Parade series, the Halloween series, the Nude series, the New York Streets series and more.

Shawn Walker, Untitled (from the New York Streets series), 18th Street, Manhattan, New York, ca. 1970

Courtesy Steven Kasher Gallery, New York

Walker characterizes his photographs as “found images,” a reference to the surrealist concept of the found object. This approach can loosely be understood as exploring cultural and/or aesthetic meaning in everyday people, places and things. For Walker, this interest manifests as an artistic exploration of social conditions.

Shawn Walker, Untitled (from the Halloween series), Harlem, New York, ca. 1960

Courtesy Steven Kasher Gallery, New York

Walker’s 30-year study of parades across cultures, and his Shadows, Dreams and Manifestations series, influenced by film noir Hollywood crime dramas, may be the most accessible exploration of surrealism for audiences. However, a close look at the layered use of formal qualities in his other photographs – movement, contrast, perspective, composition – reveals a poetic mind in the act of intuitive sensing at work.

Shawn Walker is on view at Steven Kasher Gallery through February 24, 2018.