The New York Times
Friday, June 14, 1974Love Marks Higgins Photos of Blacks
By Nathaniel Sheppard Jr.
When Chester Higgins Jr., took up photography in 1968 it was largely out of a feeling that the portrayal of blacks in print and electronic journalism did not properly convey the range or diversity of black life-styles.
Indeed, the photographers of the turbulent nineteen-sixties tended to show the extremes of black life in America, usually the humility of poverty or the rage and anger generated by the times, the 27-year-old Alabama native was saying during an interview at the Acts of Arts Gallery, 15 Charles Street. The gallery is showing his photo essay on the black man in America.
The essay — a collection of 89 photographs titled "Drums of Life" — was published in book form this week by Anchor/Doubleday. The project was financed by a grant from the Ford Foundation.
"My work deal with poverty and militancy too, but I go a step further by showing a range of black experiences and life-styles with one undergirding and common element in each — love," Mr. Higgins said.
We are a warm, loving and compassionate people, and it is these elements I try to capture when I look through the lens of a camera.
"Often, this means I must spend a lot of time getting to know the people I plan to photograph in order to gain insight into what their experiences have been and what their life-styles say about their philosophy of life.
"I believe in the axiom that a picture is worth a thousand words, and I believe pictures should make people see differently. Because I am a positivist I try to show that which is good in people."
Like his first book, "Black Woman," published by McCall’s in 1970, "Drums of Life" pictures blacks in a variety of life-styles and stations of life.
The beauty, majesty and mystique of a baby at the moment of birth and the melancholy and gloom of the bereaved at a funeral.
In between, black celebrities, politicians and ordinary folk are seen with their families or at work. One section of the book has caught the elderly with faces that bespeak wisdom and an eternity of life experiences.
He grew up in New Brockton, Alabama, "a town of 800 residents and one traffic light."
He grew up in the town with a brother and twin sisters. His mother was an educator, and his father operated a dry-cleaning business. He studied Business Management at Tuskegee University.
In the summer of 1969, he came to New York where he met Arthur Rothstein, then head of Look magazine’s photography department, and this meeting effectively turned him away from business to photography.
Mr. Higgins said Mr. Rothstein had been the person most influential in encouraging him during his early days in photography. "By showing me how it should be done and giving me needed criticism."
After college he returned here. His first freelance assignment for Look — a story on the Rev. Jesse Jackson of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Chicago’s Operation PUSH — resulted in a five-page spread.
Mr. Higgins later met Romare Bearden, the painter, who has since worked with him on the fine points of capturing the essence of people in photography and painting.