Reviewed February 2021
Debra Shapiro, Distinguished Faculty Associate & Coordinator of Online MA Program
The iSchool at UW-Madison
The announcement in 2019 that the Johnson Publishing Company was selling its photo archive inspired the founders of the Loss/Capture Project, Steven Booth and Stacie Williams, to reflect on Black cultural heritage and history and archives, particularly as this history is represented in collections in Chicago. With support from Sixty Inches From Center, Loss/Capture went online in October of 2020. A post about the release, with associated activities, can be viewed on the Sixty Inches From Center website.
Loss/Capture, Volume 1: “The State of Black Cultural Archives” currently consists of ten pieces, in the form of essays, photo essays, and interviews. All the pieces include images, and some include video or audio components. For example, Loss/Capture In Conversation: Vivian G. Harsh’s Life and Legacy with Dr. Melanie Chambliss and Tracy Drake is an almost-hour-long video examining the impact of Chicago’s first Black librarian. The video begins with a short introduction provided by Steven Booth that not only provides context for the discussion of Vivian Harsh, it also contextualizes the Loss/Capture Project.
Tempestt Hazel’s contributions, “Don’t It Always Seem to Go: On the Loss and Capture of Black (re)Collections” and the associated “A Timeline of Loss and Capture for Chicago’s Black Collections and Artworks” examine the preservation of Black cultural history as it has been practiced within local communities, handed down within families, and increasingly entering institutional archives and libraries, despite these archives existing “within a country that has consistently prevented and actively resisted the formation, maintenance, and accessibility of autonomous and thriving Black histories and spaces.” In the essay, Hazel traces the loss and scattering of Black Chicago archives, such as William Walker’s 1972 mural, “All of mankind” that was painted over during the redevelopment Cabrini-Green in 2015; Kerry James Marshall’s public works ending up auctioned off at Sotheby’s; the sale of the Johnson Publishing Company archive. She also mentions gains, such as Daniel Texidor Parker and Patric McCoy, who, along with Carol Briggs and Joan Crisler, founded Diasporal Rhythms, a group that collects the work of artists of African descent. The essay includes two photographs of McCoy’s house on the Southside of Chicago, where the walls are hung floor to ceiling with works of art.
In the loss column, the essay by Ireashia M. Bennett, “More than a Melody: Reimagining the Sounds of Blackness”, documents the decline in visibility and accessibility of the Center for Black Music Research (CBMR) at Columbia College, that had a staff of about twelve in 2009. In May of 2019, citing budget constraints, the College eliminated two positions and a third person resigned in June. The pandemic has only added additional uncertainty to researchers’ ability to access CBMR collections. The College website states that the collection database is being moved to a new site, and will be available to search in January 2021, but physical access remains limited.
The overall layout of the Loss/Capture website makes it easily navigable by both casual and more advanced users. The production is topnotch: all video and audio plays seamlessly, with assured and well-practiced speakers; links to additional information all work; images display crisply and are fully captioned.
Loss/Capture fulfills a broad purpose as an introductory resource on Black cultural history in Chicago, that can be appreciated by a wide variety of users. It also provides a more specialized audience with a fascinating glimpse into how archivists, curators, and collectors do their work.