New photo exhibit celebrates slice of Black life in Twin Cities

Author of accompanying book saw his childhood in pictures

Author Davu Seru (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

A Twin Cities Black “a photographic celebration” is now on display at the Minnesota Historical Society in downtown Minneapolis.

The exhibit of the late Charles Chamblis’ two-decade-long photographic work opened November 15 at the Mill City Museum and will run through March 31, 2018. The event also launched the Society’s new book, Sights, Sounds, Soul:  The Twin Cities through the Lens of Charles Chamblis released by Minnesota Historical Society Press on November 1.

Hamline English Professor Davu Seru, who wrote the introductory text and the essays, signed copies of the book, which MSR Contributing Writer Dwight Hobbes reviewed in last week’s edition.

Seru, who changed his name from David Underwood around 20 years ago, is a Northside native.  He told the MSR during the event, “I was born in North Minneapolis and grew up during the time when Chamblis was most productive. When I look at these photographs, I see people who I grew up with, who reared me.”

Seru said the photographs reminded him of how Black life was back then. “Growing up on the North Side felt like a village, a very small place,” Seru reflected. “I said in the book Black people were restricted to where they could be and couldn’t be.  But out of that, we made plenty of lemonade. I grew up thinking it was normal.”

It also confirmed his original thoughts going into the project. “When I started to research and made my first trip to the archives, I started running into family members about a half hour in.  I told myself, ‘I am going to run into Mommy and Daddy,’ and sure enough I did,” said Seru.

Chamblis was born during the Harlem Renaissance era “and came of age during the Second World War at a time when the new Black media — a number of Black newspapers would emerge,” Seru noted.

Chamblis was like many Black photographers of his generation, who often were self-taught and took pictures as a side job to show “our best side to counter the more familiar image that is presented by people who are typically not from our communities. We were a lot more than we were portrayed,” said Seru.

Nearly three decades after his death in 1991, Chamblis through the book and photo exhibit, perhaps is now receiving his rightly due recognition for his historical contributions. “I don’t think he was looking for [it] but he certainly will get it. He didn’t seek recognition. He found his identity in photography because someone gave him a camera in the early ’60s.”

Finally, people like Chamblis, who had a keen eye on what was really happening in the Black community, might be a relic of sorts. “With everybody having a camera on their phones, everyone is taking their own pictures,” concluded Seru on today’s digital technology. “It seems that he was not taking photography for the immediate but for posterity — for those who were there can look back.”

 “Sights, Sounds, Soul: The Twin Cities through the Lens of Charles Chamblis” runs through March 31, 2018 at Mill Commons, Mill City Museum, 704 & Second Street South in downtown Minneapolis; Tuesday — Saturday 10 am to 5 pm, Sunday noon to 5 pm. The event is free. Go to for more event information.

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