Kamoinge, Inc. was founded as a collective of African-American photographers seeking artistic equality and empowerment. It works as a forum in which members view, nurture, critique and challenge each other’s work in an honest and understanding atmosphere. In 1963, two groups of African American photographers held a joint meeting. One group was Group 35, which included James Ray Francis, Louis Draper, Herman Howard, Earl James and Calvin Mercer. The other group included Herb Randall, Albert Fennar, Shawn Walker and James Mannas. Out of this meeting came the Kamoinge Workshop. The name derives from the Gikuyu language of Kenya and means ‘a group of people acting together.’ Photographers Roy DeCarava, Larry Stewart and Melvin Mills were important catalyst for the groups’ early development with DeCarava, a philosophic and artistic innovator, voted the first director of Kamoinge.
In 1965, the group opened the Kamoinge Gallery in a brownstone on West 137th Street. The activities in the new space included: numerous group exhibitions; rigorous but constructive critiques of photographs and portfolios; and frequent visitors and guest speakers. Early guests included: Peter Magune, a photojournalist from South Africa; John Szarkowski, Director of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art; Langston Hughes, playwright and Poet Laureate of Harlem; Henri Cartier-Bresson, the important French photojournalist; the R.E. Martinez, publisher of Camera, an influential Swiss photo magazine. Since the founding of Kamoinge its members have participated in hundreds of individual and group exhibitions in major national and international artistic institutions, too numerous to name. Kamoinge members have published scores of photographic books and portfolios, all concerned with the truth, insight and integrity of both the subject and artistic process.
Based in New York City, Kamoinge has met continuously since 1963 under the leadership of creative and active directors including Anthony Barboza, Roy DeCarava, Louis Draper and Beuford Smith. Individually, the members lecture, conduct seminars, teach in universities and work in fine art photography, commercial photography, motion pictures, and video.