03/11/2013 01:11 pm ET Updated May 11, 2013

Deborah Willis Explores How African-Americans Construct Identity And Image

Inside a beauty parlor in a small Florida town, Carrie is having her hair done. She is oblivious to the commotion around her. Peering intently into a mirror, she is at that quintessential moment of beautification when she must decide if the image she sees pleases her and she is ready to face the world.

Deborah Willis captured that moment in Eatonville, a small, predominantly African-American town outside of Orlando. But you could argue that she first encountered that moment -- many times over -- as a child at her mother's Philadelphia beauty shop.

That candid portrait is part of "Framing Beauty," Ms. Willis's exhibition at the International Visions Gallery in Washington (on view through April 13), which explores how present-day African-Americans construct their identity and image. But the storied artifacts, subjects and communities depicted in these photographs imbue them with both a sense of history and continuity with the past.