ARTS & CULTURE
08/27/2014 12:54 pm ET

Race Seen Through Viewfinders

Frederick Bass via Getty Images

To describe Thomas Allen Harris’s “Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People” as a history of African-American photography would be accurate but incomplete. Inspired by the book “Reflections in Black” (2000), Deborah Willis’s groundbreaking and thorough excavation of a vital and neglected photographic tradition, Mr. Harris’s film is a family memoir, a tribute to unsung artists and a lyrical, at times heartbroken, meditation on imagery and identity. The film is always absorbing to watch, but only once it’s over do you begin to grasp the extent of its ambitions, and just how much it has done within a packed, compact hour and a half.

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