After an illustrious career, Derby has taken to honoring those like her — whose unheralded contributions and labors of love she captured as moments in time to be revisited in perpetuity.
“Women: Agents of Change in the American Civil Rights Movement” — a sliver of Derby’s collection of documentary photography — will be on display at Abernathy Arts Center in Sandy Springs through March 29.
“Women played crucial roles in the movement,” Derby said. “They worked hand-in-hand with the men on every level.”
Six window-pane frames of multiple black and white photographs adorn the center’s walls.
“They serve as a looking glass into the past’s self-help activities that occurred in local communities where the Civil Rights Movement made considerable headway,” said Derby, 74.
An array of images illuminate the space, particularly those of workers, activists and denizens of the Mississippi Delta figuratively planting the seeds of reform — scenes from Head Start programs, agricultural cooperatives and medical clinics among the most poignant.
By design, the exhibit’s duration at Abernathy bridges Black History and Women’s History months.
“In the shots that Dr. Derby has captured over the years, specifically in ‘Women: Agents of Change,’ she’s capturing real-life moments; she’s capturing people working at the ground level,” said Lauren Bernazza, program director of the Fulton County Arts and Culture department. “They’re really relatable … you look at these images and you feel like you can step right in [the picture] with these folks and have a conversation with them. … I think there’s really an instant connection with the viewer.”
Images of a much younger Derby can also be found among the body of work on display. Indeed, the native New Yorker-turned-south Atlantan, who helped organize the seminal March on Washington, shares frames with luminaries ranging from ’70s icon Rosie Grier to First Lady Rosalynn Carter.
The re-emergence of the documentarian’s voluminous photographic work — other chapters are showcased at a plethora of museums, galleries and universities — could either represent a rebirth of sorts or an enduring swan song.
Derby, a trained anthropologist, retired in 2012 after more than 20 years as Georgia State University’s founding director of African-American student services and programs.
She credits a nurturing home environment and being exposed to art and other cultures as the impetus for her desire to seek out and improve the nuanced condition of black life from an early age.
“I said that that’s something I’m going to continue to do … because I still don’t see enough of what needs to be done,” said Derby. “I didn’t realize until after a long time, even though I was doing it, that that was my mission in life.
“The photographs were just one part of it. I also realized the economic, the political and the cultural — you had to have all of that together.”
IF YOU GO:
o What: "Women: Agents of Change in the American Civil Rights Movement"
o Where: Abernathy Arts Center, 254 Johnson Ferry Road, Sandy Springs
o When: through March 29
o Admission: free and open to the public
o Information: www.fultonarts.org