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The Transformative Black-White Friendship That Ignited A Stereotype-Busting Female Photographer

Almost lost to history, the story of Eluard Luchell McDaniels' powerful impact on budding photographer Consuelo Kanaga is one for the ages. Through their friendship, the Black handyman inspired the White photographer's rethinking of what she could do in the world to promote basic human respect and social justice, with her camera and with her life.

"What have you got to say? I think in a few small cases I've said a few things, expressed how I felt, trying to show the horror of poverty or the beauty of black people. I think that in photography what you've done is what you've had to say. In everything this has been the message of my life. A simple supper, being with someone you love, seeing a deer come around to eat or drink at the barn -- I like things like that. If I could make one true, quiet photograph, I would much prefer it to having a lot of answers." Consuelo Kanaga

Although she grew up in a wealthy family that valued ideals of social justice, it wasn't until Consuelo Kanaga met Eluard McDaniels that she truly became aware of the nature of systemic injustice and racism. From that point, a lifelong connection with Blacks and other victims of injustice unfolded, resulting in ground-breaking photographs of Black Americans, expressing each person's inner dignity, nobility, and grace, rather than the often dehumanized/demonized images common in Jim Crow America. She also created compelling, starkly probing photographs of unjust social conditions. Beyond her photographs, she became a lifelong civil rights activist, leading to her 1963 arrest, at the age of 69, while participating in, and photographing, a civil rights march. Kanaga's photographic body of work is immense and wide-ranging. The photographs offered in today's post are a mere scratch on the surface. The photos come from the galleries of photos mentioned below or from those in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum or the International Center for Photography.

Capturing the African-American Experience of the Early 20th Century - From the time she met Eluard Luchell McDaniels, the life and career of Consuelo Kanaga was forever changed.
The Dasher - A short biographical snapshot of Consuelo Kanaga, with some interesting hints about her character. For example, at age thirteen she packed a sandwich and a rope and paddled a kayak across San Francisco Bay from Sausalito to Alcatraz. Why? To rescue any prisoner who might have been swimming toward freedom. The photo of her below, with her camera, is also from this article.
Consuelo Kanaga - A 2-minute video profile.
Eluard Luchell McDaniels - Eluard McDaniels was a lifelong activist for civil rights and social justice, but easily accessible information about him is scarce. Fortunately, as part of a project documenting the history of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, America's first desegregated military unit, a college student wrote this very interesting research paper about his life.
Eluard Luchelle "El Fantastico" McDaniels - As one facet of his social-political activism, Eluard McDaniels, along with a number of other Black Americans, volunteered to fight against the fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War. For background on the Abraham Lincoln Brigade see: African American Anti-Fascists in the Spanish Civil War.
Consuelo Kanaga: African-American Portraitist - A sampling of a few of her most iconic photographs with a brief biographical sketch. A more extensive gallery of her photos can be found here: Consuelo Kanaga.

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