‘Frank Stewart’s Nexus: An American Photographer’s Journey’ at the Phillips

“Frank Stewart’s Nexus: An American Photographer’s Journey, 1960s to the Present” (through Sept. 3 at the Phillips Collection) is an energetic exciting experience, one that’s most enjoyable in its exploration of Black culture in America and specifically the many forms of African-American music now part of America’s heritage — gospel, blues and jazz.

The hundred photographs by Stewart in this visual memoir of his life with his camera is arranged along thematic lines that follow his career starting from his first photograph as a teenager in 1963 of the seminal March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

From his original home in Memphis, Stewart traveled the world, while he studied with great photographers-mentors, such as Roy DeCarara, Garry Winogrand, Jack Whitten and Romare Bearden.

Central to this story is his 30 years of travels internationally as senior staff photographer with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. This afforded him the opportunity to capture both public and personal moments, of celebrity musicians as well as images of native peoples in other world cultures. Featured are jazz legends Miles Davis, Ahmad Jamal and Wynton Marsalis. Stewart also records events of unnamed tribal dancers and drummers in Ghana and carnival goers in Cuba.

Frank Stewart’s “Juneteenth ’93, 19th of June Celebration, Mexia, Texas.” Courtesy Phillips Collection.

In more recent experimentations with photography, he created the painterly  “Drawings” series which captures reflections, walls, cars, and children at play  — of which Stewart has said it’s “all made up on-the-spot just like a jazz musician improvises on a riff.”

In the last 20 years, with changes in image technology, Stewart  has shifted to larger works in  color. In these images, he captures the ever-changing landscape and environmental catastrophes —the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans between 2005-07 and the more recent devastating fires in California and the Pacific Northwest.

What makes these photographs so great? In a 2015 interview in “Jazzblog,” Stewart delineates that great photographs are either about subject matter, the medium or the person who is taking the picture. He said that he liked his “photographs to talk about me, and I always like to talk about how I feel about the world, so the great photographs talk about all three.”

While he’s not in the images of wedding receptions or Memphis barbecues or in his exploratory travels, he’s very much part of the scene in these works which seem to expand beyond their borders, almost in to a third dimension, to include the viewer to be present with what’s going on.

If there were calls for encore performances, “Frank Stewart’s Nexus: An American Photographer’s Journey, 1960s to the Present” would certainly deserve another round of viewing for visitors who enjoy being captivated by his historical and reflective collections.

A Spotify playlist features songs by musicians in the exhibit.

“Frank Stewart’s Nexus: An American Photographer’s Journey, 1960s to the Present” runs through Sept. 3. Information about the show and events can be found at PhilipsCollection.org/events



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *