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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Errol Sawyer’s Photographic Portrait of Beauford

“Quantum.” This is one of the words that photographer Errol Sawyer used to describe Beauford during our recent interview.

Errol Sawyer (http://www.errolsawyer.com) is a documentary and fine arts photographer who currently lives in Amsterdam. His photographic portrait of Beauford is the most compelling one that I have ever seen.

Beauford Delaney
Rue Guilleminot
France 1973
© Errol Sawyer

Sawyer and Beauford were introduced in 1973 by a Danish woman who lived in the 14th arrondissement. Sawyer believes she may have been Beauford’s neighbor. She was very excited about making the introduction and hoped that the two men would build a relationship, perhaps because they were both African-American and both artists. Sawyer regrets that this did not happen – he says that he was 29 years old at the time and “didn’t know anything.” At that time he did not realize the value of maintaining contact with Beauford.

Sawyer only met Beauford twice, yet he was inspired to photograph him. He describes Beauford as being “like a boy – youthful, exuberant…” He never saw Beauford in a state of incoherence and said that Beauford was able to articulate his thoughts clearly whenever they spoke. But he also said that he thought Beauford operated on another plane of existence; that he was “in another zone.” He felt that Beauford was a “beautiful” human being.

The photo shoot took place in front of Sawyer’s atelier on rue Guilleminot in the 14th arrondissement, just one street away from Beauford’s studio on rue Vercingétorix. But he never visited Beauford’s studio and did not know Beauford’s work at the time he took the photo. He said that he wanted to photograph Beauford because he looked interesting and was very comfortable in his skin:

I was drawn to him. I used a 50 mm lens camera to take the portrait. He was not bothered by the camera, not put off by it, not intimidated by it.

Sawyer traveled to Paris with his son Victor a few weeks ago and we returned to rue Guilleminot. The entire neighborhood was being razed and rebuilt at around the time that Beauford was committed to Sainte-Anne’s in the late 70s, and Sawyer recognized almost nothing from the time that he lived in the neighborhood. Though the building where his studio was located no longer exists, he showed me approximately where he took the photograph of Beauford. I photographed him and Victor at that spot.

Victor and Errol Sawyer on rue Guilleminot
© Discover Paris!

We then walked over to the place where Beauford’s building once stood. Sawyer recognized the church Notre Dame du Travail but said that everything else had changed from the time that he lived in Paris (1971-78). He again lamented that he had no idea he and Beauford were living so close together and that he did not get to know Beauford during those years.

I asked Sawyer what effect Beauford has had on his life. He responded:

He is speaking to me as I look at his portrait. He’s saying to me “Keep the faith.” He was a romantic and an idealist. Some of the things that he had to live through drove him mad. The same happened to van Gogh. Beauford is as present now as he was then. He’s not dead.

Those in Paris can view three of Sawyer’s works, including his portrait of Beauford, from his book entitled City Mosaic (2010) at the Obama’s America exposition at Dorothy’s Gallery:

Dorothy’s Gallery – American Center for the Arts
27, rue Keller
75011 Paris
Telephone: 01 43 57 08 51
Internet: http://dorothysgallery.com/art/
Metro: Bastille (Lines 1, 5, and 8), Voltaire (Line 9)
Hours: Wednesday through Saturday from 1 PM to 7 PM, Tuesday and Sunday from 4 PM to 7 PM

A limited number of copies of City Mosaic are available for purchase at the gallery as well.

The exposition runs from September 14 through November 10, 2012.

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