Jack Mitchell's Ailey Collection

PBS News Hour - Alvin Ailey's Beautiful Vision For Dance, Captured In Thousands Of Photos

PBS News Hour - Alvin Ailey's Beautiful Vision For Dance, Captured In Thousands Of Photos

It’s a simple photograph: a young man staring directly into the camera, arms folded. In the image captured in 1962, dance maestro Alvin Ailey looks defiant. Rhea Combs also sees something else when she looks at the black-and-white image. To her, the fact that photographer Jack Mitchell captured the performer shirtless is a visual metaphor, as if Ailey is telling the viewer, “I’m just baring my chest to the world and giving my all,” Combs said.

Smithsonian Magazine - Trove Of Stunning Dance Photography Now Online

Smithsonian Magazine - Trove Of Stunning Dance Photography Now Online

Modern dance impresario Alvin Ailey once asked photographer Jack Mitchell to shoot publicity images of his dancers for their next performance without even knowing the title of their new work. Seeing “choreography” in the images Mitchell produced, Ailey leapt into an ongoing professional relationship with Mitchell. “I think that speaks to the trust that they had in one another,” says Rhea Combs, a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Ailey “knew it would work out somehow, some way.” This partnership, which began in the 1960s, led to the production of more than 10,000 memorable images, and the museum has now made those photos available online.

National Museum Of African American History & Culture - Alvin Ailey Photography Collection Is Now Available To The Public

National Museum Of African American History & Culture - Alvin Ailey Photography Collection Is Now Available To The Public

On World AIDS Day and the 30th anniversary of Alvin Ailey’s death (Dec. 1), the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture is making available the collection of more than 10,000 photographs chronicling the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater from 1961 to 1994. The Jack Mitchell Photography of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Collection includes 8,288 black-and- white negatives, 2,106 color slides and transparencies, and 339 black-and-white prints depicting private photo sessions, repertory by Alvin Ailey and a wide range of choreographers and iconic solo performers.