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Black Magic: A Tintype Photo Project with Adam Davis

Los Angeles-based multidisciplinary artist Adam Davis brings his 1850’s tintype photo practice to the South Side Community Art Center!


On June 3rd and June 4th, South Side Community Art Center will host artist Adam Davis and his ‘Black Magic’ tintype photography project. Through this participatory photo activation, Adam will offer free portrait sessions to members of the Chicago community.


Davis will create 2 portraits per session – one for participants to take home and one for his own archive. Traveling to historically Black cities and communities nationwide, Davis is in pursuit of creating 20,000 tintype portraits of Black Americans with the goal of creating the largest contemporary archive of Black American portraits.


Themes of Afrofuturism, celebrating the Art of Magic, and Queerness have become foundational to Davis’ process throughout the project.

Black historical art spaces, such as SSCAC are critical to Davis’ intent to be in conversation with the legacy of Black artistic innovation, community engagement, and Black archival contributions to the culture.


Please read below on how to participate:


Portrait sessions will take place at SSCAC from 1pm – 4pm.

Each portrait session will take 20 – 30 minutes, which includes a chemical development process. Due to the nature of this process, RSVP time selections are required to participate.

We kindly ask that you select 1 time slot for yourself only, so that we’re able honor each participant per session.





Adam Davis (b. 1994) is an American Visual Artist, Educator, and Arts Education Advocate born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Davis obsessively seeks to apply his passion for creativity, communication, and storytelling to assist in finding solutions to problems that hinder diverse and equitable cultural progression at the intersection of the Arts and Education within the Black community. With a degree in Education and 6 years in the classroom, Davis’ work intends to document the lives of Black bodies in a way that educates, empowers, and returns the permission to dictate how they are photographed to the subject. Delving into personal narratives on religion, queerness, mental health, and the greater understanding of the global African diaspora, Davis creates images, both moving and still, from a place of curiosity.


Davis is a resident at the 54 year old Black Owned and operated community arts organization St. Elmo Village in Los Angeles, California. Here Davis developed his darkroom practice on campus in the facilities opened by founder Roderick Sykes. Davis’ second solo exhibition, titled Black Magic, was created at the Village and opened at the Byrd Museum in Los Angeles, where his darkroom practice lies at the center of his practice of making tintype portraits. The exhibition monograph was successfully published soon after by Paper Chase Press and debuted at the New Art Dealers Alliance fair in Miami during Art Basel Week 2021. Davis’ work has been featured in the LA Times, SKEW Magazine, Umber Publications, and AFAR among others.




Works in EMERGENCE are diverse in their subject matter and media, but a few themes reappear throughout. Working in abstraction or in the traditionally peaceful genre of still life, artists like William Carter, Allen Stringfellow, and Jonathan Green express themes of interiority or sociability, history or modernity. Notably, Stringfellow and Ralph Arnold both experimented with media and materials and worked extensively in collage, which allowed them to combine abstract design, figurative imagery, and on occasion political ideas.

Viewers typically expect Black artists to focus on particular aspects of their social and political identities within their work. Where might those expectations come from? Still life, abstraction, and collage may express many different things about artists’ interior lives and their visual and social observation, whether connected to public manifestations of identity or not.

William Carter’s mid-century still life Untitled presents a group of vibrantly colored bottles that invite the viewer’s gaze, set against a similarly colorful background with floral elements like grapes and leaves. They give evidence of conviviality and might be interpreted as symbols of social gatherings, but they could also just be a collection of pleasing forms. We might put Carter’s still life in dialogue with that of Jonathan Green, who became close friends with Carter while living in Chicago. Green’s close-up view of an eloquently simple composition presents oranges, a pear, and a lemon in front of two vessels. Works like this piece call the viewer to examine the objects the artist chose to include, to consider how they interact with each other like bodies in space, and to reflect on their meaning within the traditional genre of still life painting.

Collage might suggest the piecing together of identity from different components that might not usually coexist, giving room for more expansive imaginations of meaning than a straightforward representational image might allow. It could also just be an inventive way of combining colors, shapes, and textures. Allen Stringfellow’s Untitled, a collage from 1962, brings familiar motifs from still life—fruit and flowers, desserts and glassware—together with imagery of artist’s models and performers. Layered with paint and tissue paper that frustrate the viewer’s attempt to get clarity on the subject matter, the bursts of form and colors hint at the splashy abstraction of Stringfellow’s untitled, textured painting made from house paint and particulate on cardboard. Here the artist tests commonly found materials to create new textures and plays with the creation of colors and finishes that diverge from “Western” academic painting methods.

In The Waiting, Arnold constructs a large collage from different paper components, lace, and paint. In the piece, elements of European and African art are placed in dialogue with one another, while some figures appear alone and isolated, others in large groups. Without giving easy answers, Arnold implies questions about social issues. Who is waiting, and for what? In his Love Sign II, which bears the words “Love is Universal,” Arnold asserts the equal validity of all types of romantic affection and love, utilizing collage to convey a more straightforward political message.