Eye Dreaming from New Bedford

By Steven Froias

#NBcreative Writer-at-large

NEW BEDFORD, MA – Lee Blake, President of the New Bedford Historical Society, is excited. Which usually means that something wonderful and significant is about to happen in the City of New Bedford.

The cause of Blake’s excitement is the imminent arrival – or rather return – of a giant of American photography. 

One who also happens to have been born in New Bedford.

On Saturday, May 6, the The New Bedford Historical Society and the New Bedford Art Museum will bring New Bedford native and celebrated writer and photographer Anthony Barboza back to New Bedford for a lecture and book signing at the Art Museum from 2-5:00 p.m. 

Anthony Barboza will be signing copies of his retrospective book, Eye Dreaming and copies will be available for sale at the free event. 

In spite of growing up in New Bedford, and still having family here, some may not have heard of Barboza. That may be because, incredibly, he’s never had a show in his own hometown. (Something Blake still hopes to rectify in the near future, she says.) 

But a perusal through the photographer’s journey from New Bedford and through an accomplished life easily conveys to the reader his profound  talent – and the significance of this very special event. 

Let’s start with Wikipedia

“Anthony Barboza (born 1944 in New Bedford, Massachusetts) is a photographer, historian, artist and writer. With roots originating from Cape Verde, and work that began in commercial art more than forty years ago, Barboza’s artistic talents and successful career helped him to cross over and pursue his passions in the fine arts where he continues to contribute to the American art scene.”

Them move over to Hyperallergic, in a piece entitled “Starting in 1963, a Photographer Spends His Life Exploring Worlds We Have Yet to Recognize”: 

“After graduating from New Bedford High School…in 1963, Anthony Barboza worked two jobs for six months – bagging groceries at a supermarket during the day and dyeing fabric in a factory at night – to save up money to move to New York City to study photography. He found a school in the pages of a New York telephone book that his aunt brought back from the city, where she worked as an assistant buyer for Lord & Taylor. This is Barboza in a nutshell: headstrong and determined. He did move New York and go to the school he found in the telephone book, but not for long because it wasn’t serious enough…”

The New York Times takes up the narrative with “A photographer shares the works that fed his soul”: 

“For 10 years, Anthony Barboza haunted jazz clubs in Manhattan, often staying till the wee hours as he took black and white photos of musicians swirling with movement. For five years before that, he invited prominent figures in African-American culture to his studio, where he photographed them against backdrops that he devised as he got to know his subjects.

“His portrait series, taken from 1975 to 1980, culminated in a book, “Black Borders,” which he published in 1980 with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, with text by Ntozake Shange and Steven Barboza, one of his seven brothers. 

“Their father was a Fuller Brush salesman in New Bedford, Mass. Mr. Barboza began his career in 1964 with the Kamoinge Workshop, a group started by black photographers a year earlier; he is now its president,” The Times also noted in the 2009 article – adding that his brother, David Barboza was then Shanghai bureau chief of The New York Times. (It’s a talented family.) 

Finally, the New Yorker magazine writes of him in “Anthony Barboza’s Galaxy of Black Stars”: 

“His portraits of Debbie Allen as Josephine Baker – and of Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela crowding the frame with their energy, talent, and mutual respect – are images that reveal not only a certain playfulness but also Barboza’s fascination with how art gets transmitted from the subject to the lens and thus to the world. He does not try to provide answers; that would make the pictures dead…”

In a collection of images that runs the gamut from kids at Coney Island to portraits of luminaries such as James Baldwan, Marvin Hagler and Michael Jackson, Anthony Barboza captured life as he saw and lived it. 

Eye Dreaming from New Bedford and into the history books. 

Be sure to catch this singular New Bedford talent on Saturday, May 6 at the New Bedford Art Museum.

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