November 2004, page 138


For nearly four decades photographer Chester Higgins Jr., has tirelessly wielded his camera on behalf of social and political change. In books like Black Woman (1970) and Elder Grace (2000) and exhibitions at such institutions as the Smithsonian (1997) and the Museum of African Art (1999), Higgins’s photo photographs capture the subtle beauty of everyday Black experiences, a beauty often ignored by mainstream media.

Echo of the Spirit (Doubleday,$29.95), his sixth book, blends 70 of the photographer’s timeless black-and-white images with touching remembrances of his life. From a childhood in rural New Brockton, Alabama, to his pioneering work in Africa, Echo captures heartwarming memories: Higgins’s inviting portraits of his country childhood home, gussied up by a blooming garden; the storied creases in the face of his great-aunt Shugg, kneeling in prayer before going to bed (and photographed by Higgins through the window); and an elderly man getting a shave in a Tuskegee barbershop. The striking and uplifting cover shot of a girl, head titled back, arms held high, reaching for a fluttering butterfly, has a profound impact.

"Women who’ve see the photo have told me, ‘That’s me as a girl, reaching for the sky,’ says Higgins, who has been a staff photographer for The New York Times since 1975. Frustrated with inaccurate media images of civil-rights demonstrations, he recognized his calling in the late sixties.

He’s passionate about sharing insights into the majestic history of our people, so Echo also includes images of an Asante king’s royal drummers in Kumasi, Ghana, and a coffee ceremony in Gondar, Ethiopia.

"It’s important to see the world as bigger than our block, our neighborhood, our city,’ says Higgins, 58, who lives in Brooklyn with his wife and sometime collaborator, Betsy Kissam. "Photography is how I follow that vision."

For more on Higgins and Echo of the Spirit, visit

Douglas Danoff

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