Community Art in Atlanta, 1977-1987: Jim Alexander's Photographs of the Neighborhood Arts Center from the Auburn Avenue Research Library

Jim Alexander Biography

Community Art in Atlanta, 1977-1987

Jim Alexander Biography

Jim Alexander is an award-winning documentary photographer, curator, lecturer, and teacher who has been a working artist and activist for more than forty years. Since the 1960s, Alexander has taught and mentored youth and adults in community-based programs while documenting the front lines of national political and cultural change, as a self-described "participant-observer." He continues to advocate on behalf of local communities and the preservation of African American cultural history through the numerous cultural and media initiatives that he has either participated in or created.

Alexander has taught photography in the Atlanta area in arts centers and academic facilities, including the Carlos Museum at Emory University, Very Special Arts (VSA) of Georgia, the Neighborhood Art Center, the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center (formerly Nexus Contemporary Art Center), the Fulton County Arts Council, the TRIO and Upward Bound Programs at Morris Brown, Clark College/Clark Atlanta University, and Atlanta Metropolitan Colleges. He has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Southern Arts Federation, the Atlanta Bureau of Cultural Affairs, and the Fulton County Arts Council. His work (the Jim Alexander Photographic Collection), is on permanent display at the Studioplex on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta, and has been represented in national and international collections, including the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.

1935: Born and raised in Waldwick, N.J.

1952: Alexander obtains his first camera while in Navy boot camp in Bainbridge, Md.

1952-1956: Upon finishing boot camp, he is transferred to a naval base in Charleston, S.C. for training as a diesel engineer. While there, he apprentices with the base's photographer, who teaches him about the intricacies of 35mm and large-format photography. He spends the next four years taking photographs around the United States and other countries.

1956-1963: Following his discharge from the Navy, Alexander produces few photographs during this period.

1964-1967: Moves to Ridgewood, N.J. and launches his professional career by taking on freelance photographic jobs.

1967: While working as the general manager of a newspaper delivery service by day, Alexander completes night school courses for a certificate in business organization and management at Rutgers University. He also begins his studies at the New York Institute of Photography.

1968: Receives a degree in commercial photography from the New York Institute of Photography. This same year, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he embarks on a body of work titled Spirits/Martyrs/Heroes, a project that documents protests, marches, personalities, musicians, artists, and events shaped by the contributions of people of African descent. This immense collection of images depicts the convergence of America's social and political scenes of the 1960s and 1970s, and their subsequent reinterpretation in the 1980s and 1990s.

1968-1970: Works with Bruner Productions, a film strip company in Ridgewood N.J., producing film strips on the civil rights movement. During this time, he also works as a photo editor, photographer and instructor for the New Press, a community-based newspaper that serves as a teaching and mentoring vehicle for the black and Hispanic communities of Paterson and Passaic, N. J.

1970: Alexander is hired by Yale University's School of Art and Architecture in New Haven, Conn. as a consultant and photography instructor for the Black Environmental Studies Team (BEST). After moving to New Haven, he opens a photography studio.

1972: Establishes Freedom Arts Communications Team (FACT), a black artists' collective comprised of musicians, visual artists, poets, mass communication professionals, community advocates, theater group members, and mentors. FACT launches a community arts festival, working with schools, the Police Athletic League (PAL) and community development offices to establish a visiting artist program to serve youth and adults in the New Haven area. Alexander is elected first vice chairman of the New Haven Black Coalition, where he becomes instrumental in launching the New Haven Black Expo, serves as Northeast director of Black Efforts for Soul in Television (BEST), and co-founds the National Black Media Coalition.

1974: Completes courses in communications psychology and cause advertising at the New School for Social Research in New York.

1976: Accepts a position as director of audiovisual communications for the Atlanta Office of Federation of Southern Cooperatives and moves his family to Atlanta.

1977-1982: Serves as photographer-in-residence at Atlanta's Neighborhood Arts Center.

1982: Establishes the Photo/Media Photography Collective, a studio/gallery complex in downtown Atlanta.

1984: Alexander's photographs are used for PBS' national broadcast promotion of the National Downhome Blues Festival, hosted in Atlanta. Over twenty of his photographs illustrated the collector's set of four record albums of music performed at the event, and to illustrate five issues of Catalyst magazine, published by the Fulton County Arts Council.

1985: Appointed Photographer-in-Residence at Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University).

1988: Co-founds First World Bookstores, which grows to a chain of five stores specializing in African American books, art and gifts. The inaugural National Black Arts Festival features Alexander's Blues Legacy exhibit, receives national attention, and is visited by Gordon Parks, Ossie Davis, Toni Cade Bambara and numerous other prominent artists and celebrities. His exhibit Duke and Other Legends, consisting of 50 black-and-white photographs of jazz musicians, travels to thirteen cities as part of the Southern Arts Federation Jazz Initiative program. A monograph of Alexander's jazz-related images, Duke and Other Legends: Jazz Photographs is published this year by Blackwood Press.

1990: Leaves Clark Atlanta to work full time managing First World Bookstores. Here, Alexander establishes Book Talk, a program that brings authors, community leaders, professionals and the general public together to discuss books and their relevance to black life.

1993: Several of Alexander's photographs are chosen for Beyond Category: The Musical Genius of Duke Ellington, an exhibit on the life of Duke Ellington that continues to tour today.

1995: The city of Atlanta's City Gallery East establishes the Atlanta Masters Series, and chooses Jim Alexander as its first artist chosen "... for his major contributions to Atlanta and the world." An exhibition of approximately 200 photographs entitled Jim Alexander: Telling Our Story was displayed in the gallery for two months.

1996-2000: Continues outreach work as coordinator and instructor of a photography and journalism program As Seen By Teens at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center (formerly Nexus Contemporary Art Center).

2000: The National Black Arts Festival features Alexander's work in a solo exhibit entitled, Still Here, Swinging: Jazz Photographs by Jim Alexander, featuring over thirty jazz musicians from his documentary project Spirits/Martyrs/Heroes. On October 18, 2000, Alexander is awarded a Photojournalist of a Lifetime award for his documentary work by JOCADA.

2000-present: In addition to exhibiting, curating, and lecturing, Alexander remains active with prominent roles in several organizations, including PhotoMedia Associates, Inc., Media Arts For Youth, and African Americans for the Arts. He continues to teach in the Continuing Education department at Clark Atlanta University.