Renowned Photographer Kwame Brathwaite Who Popularized ‘Black Is Beautiful’ Dies At 85

Kwame Brathwaite, an influential photographer whose activism introduced the masses to the “Black Is Beautiful” movement, passed away at the age of 85.

On Sunday, Brathwaite’s son, Kwame Brathwaite, Jr., announced his death on Instagram through a touching tribute to his late father.

“I am deeply saddened to share that my Baba, the patriarch of our family, our rock and my hero has transitioned,” he wrote.

“Thank you for your love and support during this difficult time. Kwame Brathwaite January 1, 1938 – April 1, 2023.”


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Brathwaite’s work helped inspire a generation of artists that came after him, including Rihanna’s Fenty fashion line, as per The Atlantic. His photos were some of the first that highlighted the beauty in Black culture, but only started receiving mainstream recognition in the form of museum exhibits and written studies, Art News reported.

“His images, carefully calibrated to reflect a moment precisely, made black beautiful for those who lived in the 1960s, and continue to do so for a generation today who might only now be discovering his work,” historian Tanisha C. Ford wrote in Aperture in 2017.

His portraits of Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali, and the Grandassa Models gave a visual representation of Black beauty and power in an age when cries for civil rights ran rampant, as noted by NPR. With the Grandassa Models, Brathwaite aimed to inspire Black women to embrace their natural beauty and stop conforming to Eurocentric standards of womanhood.

“We said, ‘We’ve got to do something to make the women feel proud of their hair, proud of their blackness,'” Brathwaite told The New Yorker.

Some of his popular work includes capturing The Motown Revue at the Apollo in 1963, The Jackson 5’s first trip to Africa in 1974, and the legendary “Rumble in the Jungle” between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.

Brathwaite was born Ronald Brathwaite in Harlem in 1938. He was inspired by Marcus Garvey and got his start organizing concerts in the Bronx and Harlem with his brother Elombe Brathwaite. Together they created the African Jazz Art Society & Studio, AJASS.

His most recent exhibitions included “Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite” at The New York Historical Society.