Portraits of Vision

Poets Rachel Eliza Griffiths and Nikky Finney
Poets Rachel Eliza Griffiths (left) and Nikky Finney. (Photo by Lynda Koolish)

Professor Emerita Lynda Koolish has dedicated 45 years to photographing feminist culture, African American poets, and American writers. Her work has been featured both locally and nationally – from her book African American Writers: Portraits and Visions, to numerous publications and displays including a juried 1994 joint exhibit of photographs at the Cork Gallery in the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, one-woman shows at U.C. Berkeley, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the San Francisco Public Library.

Her most recent success marked this February with two museum exhibit openings in San Diego at the Women’s Museum of California and Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA). Koolish says her photographs are a celebration of the passion, ethical and creative genius of the writers whose work she cares about – and her way of encouraging artists at SDSU.

poet Toi Derricotte
Poet Toi Derricotte. (Photo by Lynda Koolish)

“Sharing my love of the writers whom I have photographed has been an important – and very personal – way for me to continue to encourage SDSU students, and the SDSU community, to explore some of the contemporary writers whose work deserves not just literary attention, but their own passionate attention in discovering writers whose work has the capacity to enlarge their own lives,” said Koolish.

The professor-turned-photographer taught from 1989-2011 in SDSU’s Department of English and Comparative Literature. She earned her Ph.D. at Stanford University in a small interdisciplinary program where she focused on American literature, photography and film, psychology and feminist studies.

The Women’s Museum of California exhibit, “A Retrospective Exhibit of 45 Years,” runs until April 2. The MOPA pop-up show of Koolish’s photographs Portraits of Vision ran Feb. 21-March 9. The exhibition celebrated Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and International Women’s Day on March 8.

Gordon Parks
Photographer, writer, artist and musician Gordon Parks. (Photo by Lynda Koolish)

“Despite the intensely personal quality of my work, it is, in its deepest sense, a collaboration. I try to listen with my eyes, pay profound attention to the self that someone else is revealing to me,” said Koolish. “As an artist, a photographer paints with light. How the subject looks psychologically and visually is determined by how the light falls, the way shadows form, creating and reflecting a sense of inner luminescence. I try to photograph at the moment of spontaneous convergence of what is visually exciting and what moves me emotionally. Sometimes, the photograph, like a poem, becomes a window filled with light.”

A permanent exhibition of more than seventy of her photographs are available for viewing in Love Library. African American Writers: Portraits and Visions can be found on the library’s fourth floor under call number PS 153 .N5 K66 2001.

For more information, visit the Women’s Museum of California website and MOPA website. – Jayla Lee

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