A trove of old Ektachrome slides shows artists, friends and lovers in the 1980s and '90s

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Lyle Ashton Harris began his "Ektachrome Archive" during a seismic cultural shift, galvanized by a new wave of Black artists and critical thinkers, as well as LGBTQ artists grappling with the AIDS epidemic.
Written by Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

When Lyle Ashton Harris' grandfather passed away, he and his brother inherited a vast trove of over 10,000 Ektachrome slides documenting his day-to-day life. Developed in the early 1940s, the film is a brand name from Kodak, and was a new type of color technology when their grandfather adopted it. (Instead of adding color to black-and-white images during processing, as is done with Kodachrome, this film allowed people to take images directly in color.)

Four decades later, multimedia artist Harris began his own Ektachrome archive, in the 1980s and '90s as art and culture underwent seismic shifts, galvanized in part by a new wave of Black artists and critical thinkers, as well as LGBTQ artists grappling with the AIDS epidemic. Harris documented friends, lovers, idols and himself, as they moved through the linked creative and political circles that helped define this era.

Lyle Ashton Harris in the mid-1990s. Harris shot his "Ektachrome Archive" over a period of two decades. Credit: Lyle Ashton Harris/Courtesy the artist and Salon 94, New York

"The late '80s, early '90s, was critical for collective community, whether that's the Black radical community, queer community, AIDS activism, etc.," Harris said via a video call. "The archive ... speaks to the collective."

Selections from Harris' "Ektachrome Archive" have been shown at major institutional shows, debuting at the São Paulo Biennial in 2016, followed by the Whitney Biennial the next year. Photos have been also been published in the 2017 book by Aperture, "Today I Shall Judge Nothing That Occurs."

Close friends and tender moments

Until recently, Harris didn't consider his archive as a singular body of work, but a simple -- though prolific -- act that accompanied his more formal series, such as his "Shadow Works," mixed-media assemblages that also excavate memories. "I was just documenting in the manner that my grandfather did -- or (photographer) Nan Goldin did -- just…
Jacqui Palumbo, CNN
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