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Posted at 9:00 AM ET, 02/24/2011

Museum acquires rare Baldwin photographs

By Jacqueline Trescott

James Baldwin feeding pigeons in Istanbul. (Sedat Pakay, 1965)

A collection of photographs of James Baldwin, one of the leading literary figures of the 20th Century, has been acquired by the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The Baldwin photographs were taken by Sedat Pakay, who met Baldwin during the 1960s in Turkey. Pakay, a photojournalist and documentary filmmaker, remained friends with the author and also made a film about Baldwin.

The museum, which is scheduled to open on the National Mall in 2015, has been busily building its collections of artifacts, including a segregated railroad car, Harriet Tubman's hymnal and Muhammad Ali's headgear.

The Baldwin photos, which were purchased by the museum from its collections fund, would fit well into a section on family scrapbooks.

Most of the 10 photographs show a relaxed Baldwin, hanging out with artist Beauford Delaney, sitting at his typewriter, feeding pigeons, and trying hookah in an Istanbul tea garden. Naturally there is a portrait of a pensive Baldwin, with the curious, deep-hooded eyes that readers expect of the author of "Go Tell It on the Mountain," "Giovanni's Room" and "Notes of a Native Son." Baldwin died in 1987.

Baldwin sitting at his typewriter without glasses in Istanbul. (Sedat Pakay, 1965)

The work of Pakay, who studied with the famed photographer Walker Evans, is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Getty Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian.

As planned now, the photographs will be part of a section of the museum called The Center for African American Media Arts. "We have always wanted a collection of photography, film, and the media that doesn't even exist now. Photography has a big part in our collection and we'll be using photography throughout the galleries. There will also be a physical space in the museum for artistic photography, documentary photography and the work of African American photographers," said Michele Gates Moresi, the curator of collections.

So far the collection contains the work of Augustus Washington, Henry Clay Anderson, Ernest Withers and Spider Martin, who documented the historic march from Selma to Montgomery.

By Jacqueline Trescott  | February 24, 2011; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Jacqueline Trescott, Museums, Photography, Smithsonian  | Tags:  James Baldwin, Michele Gates Moresi, National Museum of African American History and Culture, Sedat Pakay, smithsonian Institution  
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