The Léon-Gontran Damas Photograph Collection depicts some aspects of his personal life and his career as a writer, educator and statesman from the 1940s to 1978. The collection consists of individual and group portraits of Damas, his family and friends, and professional colleagues; views of social events and gatherings, public funerals, and state visits; views of street scenes, landscapes, apartment interiors and artwork; and a group of portraits, some historical, of various artists, musicians and writers. Images from his early life and career are limited.
The personal photographs series includes reproductions of studio portraits from when Damas was nine years old (ca. 1921) and as a young man (n.d); a studio portrait of Damas taken in Paris (ca. 1937); a candid portrait of Damas overlooking Paris shortly after his election as French Guiana's representative to the French Assembly (1945); in a series of headshots taken in Rio de Janiero (1964); candid shots and group portraits from wedding and reception for Damas and Marietta Campos in Paris (1967); a snapshot of the Damases after their arrival in New York (1970); snapshots of the Damases at home relaxing or entertaining guests in Washington, D.C. (early 1970s); and a series of candid shots of Damas in French Guiana (ca. 1975). Also included are views of speakers and mourners at Damas' funeral service at Howard University, and members of his family attending funeral services in Cayenne, French Guiana (1978).
The professional activities series includes views and group portraits depicting Damas' trips to Senegal during 1976, including the 70th birthday celebration of Senegalese President Léopold Sédar Senghor, who was a close friend and writing colleague of Damas; views and group portraits of Damas and Martinican poet Aimé Césaire at a book signing for an edition of Damas's work that combines "Pigments" and "Névralgies," in Fort-de-France, Martinique (1972); and various group portraits and candid shots of Damas either visiting or meeting with African, Caribbean and European dignitaries and diplomats in Washington, D.C. or aborad (1950s-1970s).
The series also depicts events in which Damas participated including the funeral and public funeral procession for French Socialist leader and writer Léon Blum (1950); views of the state visit of Senegalese President Senghor to Washington, D.C. where he is meeting with President Gerald Ford at the White House, touring Howard University, and being honored by Washington, D.C. mayor Walter Washington (1975); and candid shots and group portraits from the first World Festival of Negro Art, in Dakar, Senegal, which include Langston Hughes, Katherine Dunham, Duke Ellington, Hale Woodruff and the Alvin Ailey Dance Company (1966).
The miscellaneous series includes a group of snapshot and candid views of French Guiana (ca. 1950s-1960s) which depict the public buildings and the waterfront of the capital city, Cayenne; assorted dwellings and local industries; damaged buildings and buildings under construction or renovation; and the waters of the Maroni River. Also included are a group of photographic postcards, mostly covering the same time period, which depict Cayenne's public buildings, street scenes, dwellings, and a group of Indian dancers; assorted structures, landscapes and waterfront scenes (probably Guianan); a group portrait taken outside the Kurhaus Restaurant in Wiesbaden, Germany (n.d.); and some views of the Sudan.
A major componant of this series is a group of portraits of artists, authors, musicians and other professionals of African descent. These individuals, who are mostly men, include both historical and contemporary African-Americans, French, Afro-Brazilian, Afro-Cuban and African figures. Among those depicted are writers Owen V. Dodson, Paul Laurence Dunbar and Ann Petry; political activist C.L.R. James; historian Carter G. Woodson; entertainer Eusebia Cosmé; and photographic reproductions of paintings by Betsy Graves Reyneau of Alain Locke and Richmond Barté. Also included are candid views of poet Langston Hughes in Senegal (ca. 1966) and of playwright Arthur Miller, the president of a writers' group called the Pen Club, at a club gathering in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire (1967). Other miscellaneous images include views of an unidentified Brazilian theatrical and musical group performing (n.d.); reproductions of illustrations and African sculptures; interior views of Damas' apartment in Paris; and views of nightclubs including the Sugarcane Club in Paris (1955).
Biographical/historical: Born in Cayenne, French Guiana, in 1912, Léon-Gontran Damas was a poet, journalist, educator and statesman who co-founded the Négritude literary movement in the 1930s with the Martinique born poet Aimé Césaire and the Senegalese author and statesman Léopold Sédar Senghor. Damas studied modern oriental languages, literature, history and ethnology, and began his career in journalism and literature in Paris in the 1930s. His first volume of poems, Pigments, appeared in 1937. He served briefly in the French army during the Second World War, and joined the French Resistance after his demobilization. Elected representative of Guiana to the French Parliament after the war, he was appointed to the High Court of Justice and served as Rapporteur of a parliamentary commission to the Ivory Coast in 1949. During the 1950s and 1960s, he lectured and traveled extensively in the Caribbean and Latin America, where he studied the influence of African culture in the New World. Appointed Distinguished Visiting Professor at Howard University in 1970, was awarded the Prix Carai̤bes that same year and died in Washington, D.C. in 1978