Howard T. Cash was born in 1953 in Harlem, New York. As an elementary school student at Holy Name School in Manhattan, he discovered that his first creative love was literature. At night when his mother thought he was sleeping he would turn on a flashlight and read books on basketball and the Nancy Drew and Hardy Bony mysteries.
After graduation, he left Frederick Douglass Houses I Manhattan and moved to the Castle Hill section of the Bronx. A long teachers strike at James Monroe High School in 1969, convinced his mother to enroll him in Laurinburg Institute, a family-owned college preparatory school in North Carolina. There, through his English teacher, Mrs. Melton, he was introduced to the literary works of William Shakespeare, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Piri Thomas, and Alex Haley’s Autobiography of Malcolm X, amongst others. Through the students at the “Burg”, he was exposed to jazz and rock music, the Black Power and the civil rights movement, philosophy and southern living.
In 1973 Howard took off for California and enrolled in Los Angeles City College (LACC). There he met Edmond Sella an old-time portrait photographer from Brooklyn, who through their studio, Look of Love Photography, showed him the beauty of available light photography. At LACC he learned to tell the story of events as a photojournalist on the school’s newspaper, The Collegian. There he formed a lasting friendship with the paper’s advisor, Joseph Dojcsak.
Howard learned the technical aspects of color and black-and-white photography downstairs in the photography department. But his passion for photography evolved upstairs on the college newspaper. Howard says, “There he discussed the enormous latitude of photography – its power to educate, influence and change the lives and attitudes of society. The powerful works of W. Eugene Smith, Ansel Adams, Gordon Parks and others, were always a part of our discussions.” Howard continues, “It was upstairs where I began to feel photography as a means of self-expression. The photographer is never neutral. At the moment in time when he decides to press the shutter – to see or feel the subject – it is based primarily on his personal sensitivity, education, experience and background.
“My first trip to Ghana, West Africa in 1978, was a defining moment in my life.” The fruitful experiences he shared with the beautiful people of Ghana enriched his sense of Blackness – giving him a stronger personal sense of self. “I learned that the fun I shared with them was due to my respect and appreciation for their rich historical heritage,” states Howard. It was there he decided that he wanted his photography to enrich people’s lives – to reflect the excitement of relationships and the timeless joy that people share with one another.
Upon Howard’s return to LACC, he exhibited the photographs and won several photography awards, including the prestigious Earl Theisen Memorial Award at the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona, California. Shortly after graduation in 1979 he said goodbye to Eric, Navis and Whitehouse. Howard was selected along with Curtis Grove and David Sandoz of the Sandoz Pharmaceutical Family, to pioneer the first photographic lab in Onitsha, a city located in the Eastern Region of Nigeria. After a couple of months the deal fell through so he moved to Lagos and began freelancing with newspapers, magazines, banks, hotels, advertising agencies, etc.
In 1980 he found an outlet for his skills and sold his first photograph to the Daily Concordnewspaper in Ikeja. There he worked closely with its editor, Dr. Doyin Aboaba, and Dele Giwa, editor of the Sunday Concord. It was there he met and joked with M.K.O. Abiola, the multi-millionaire and owner of the newspapers. Howard was deeply saddened by the violent murder of Dele in 1986 and the sudden death of M.K.O. Abiola in 1998. With the help of his friend Amambra, he found a residence and set up his darkroom at Igbobi, off of Ikorodu Road.
Living at No. 4 Kalejaiye Street at Igbobi was one of the best periods of his life. The compound became his studio. Their children became his children and the people who lived there gave him a lot of love. When his funds were low they made sure that he ate. When he was away, they gave him his messages and when he caught his first case of malaria, they nursed him back to health. They gave him the Yoruba name, Owolabi, which means, he who is blessed with money.
Nigerians have been listening to African-American music – jazz, blues, R&B, you name it – for many years. Howard remembers the day when he and Amambra were walking down the road singing the lyrics of The Temptations, The Four Tops, and James Brown. Howard spent many afternoons photographing numerous African-American musical groups brought over to perform at The National Theater by entrepreneurs such as Ben Bruce of Silverbird Productions. Howard’s reputation inspired Paul Aifowa, President of Time Insurance Company to hire him to cover their concert Tempo ’81, combining the African acts of Miriam Makeba and Bongos Ikwoe with Change, and The Brothers Johnson of America.
The first time he saw Fela Anikulapo-Kuti play was at Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos. His Afro-beat music, politically charged with conscious lyrics of social change, held his body hostage from photograph to photograph with funky beats akin to the legendary showmanship of soul musician, James Brown. Fela was the fearless spokesman for the poor – using his music to speak for the voiceless masses that were struggling to live a better life, in conditions that needed to be properly addressed by the Nigerian government. Fela was scorned by the government but loved by the people, his carefree sexual lifestyle led to his dying of AIDS in 1999. Today his music is played worldwide by over fifty bands.
In 1982, Horst Faas, photo editor of The Associated Press (AP) in London asked him to become a stringer and provide them with newsworthy photographs from Nigeria. This opportunity laid the groundwork for his breaking the huge international story of the Ghanaian exodus form the port of Lagos in January 1983. Howard felt those were very sad days for Pan-Africanism.
In 1982, with the help of Julie Coker and Johnny Ugbor, he was awarded a contract by the Nigerian Television Authority – which took him to all parts of the country – to photograph all twenty-one of the government’s television stations for their corporate publications. Later that year, Howard joined many of his friends as a freelance photographer at the newly formed Guardian Press in Lagos. He provided them, along with AP, photographs of the state visit of Mur__________ ____________, and coverage of the presidential elections of 1983.
Also in 1983, he acquired a second residence along Ede Road at Oshogbo in Oyo State (now Oshun State). It is the cradle of Ifa, a Yoruba religion (masked the world as Santaria religion) that is now practiced throughout the world. Oshogbo is also the home of the Oshun shrine and the Oshun River. It is believed that barren women drinking from the sacred river would be able to conceive. Children are highly revered in Yoruba culture. Unlike the noisy hustle and bustle of Lagos life, Oshogbo’s tranquility allowed him a place to retreat, read and enjoy rural life. Oshogbo is an artistic town that produces many great artists. It was a place where he could meet and mix with Rugus Ogundele, the late Ashiru – laugh with Jimoh Buraimoh and discuss art with Cornelius Arinjo, Oni Abirodun, Twin Seven Seven and his wives Nike, Bintu and the late Yemisi.
During a visit to America in the summer of 1983, Howard documented the historical presidential bid of Reverend Jesse Jackson’s run for the White House. The success of his campaign inspired many other qualified African-Americans to run for public office. He also photographed that years’ March on Washington, commemorating the historical March of 1963, which was led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In the summer of 1984 Howard returned to Nigeria, and along with Shaibu Adinoyi-Ojo covered the Oshun Festival for theGuardian Newspaper – that was his last assignment in Nigeria before returning home to America for good.
Howard said goodbye to his friends in Nigeria and settled in New York City. Howard began photographing African as well as other forms of dance in slow motion photography as a fine art. He feels that “The beautiful and unpredictable moments of dance through slow motion photography allowed him to capture a spiritual transformation within dance movements of ghostly images which escape the human eye.”
After the death of Nigerian President Elect M.K.O. Abiola in the summer of 1998, he began exhibiting his work through the solo and selected group shows. In the year 2000, Howard began photographing his Drumming and Dancing series of outdoor celebrations in New York City, as well as his series called Sundays, which are photographs of Harlemites attending church or socializing in the street.
In 2001 Howard felt a spiritual calling to visit and photograph St. Helena Island in the Gullah region of South Carolina. There he resided with Maggie Green, whose southern hospitality reminded him of his days at Igbobi. He also met the batik artist Arianne King Comer. She was instrumental in guiding him to people and places of interest. As they talked he learned that she had also lived in Oshogbo in the early 1990’s, and that they had friends in common – they became good friends.
Presently, Howard resides in the Bronx, New York, and is co-Founder of Generation Studios along with Bilal Salaam, and is the Founder and President of Image Griots Photographic Group, as well. In 2002, the group created the award-winning exhibitionPortraits and Conversations: 9/11 and is presently working on another photographic pictorial. In 2003, Howard was awarded an Arts in Education Grant from the Bronx Council of the Arts – he will be an artist-in-residence and instructional photographer in partnership with the Bronx High School of Visual Arts at Christopher Columbus High School. He is presently compiling his first book entitled Love Stories in Romantic Poetry, which is due out in Spring 2004.
Love Stories in Romantic Poetry is a book of photographs is a series of intimate photographic narratives accompanied by poetic verse, which provide romantic insight into sensual desire. This body of work illustrates a loving connection of African-American relationships between men and women that journeys beyond sex. It is important for me to illuminate and discuss the beautiful sides of romance and love that Black couples share as Black men reach out through desire to love and comfort their woman, as well as women nurturing and caring about the well-being of their man. This creates a meaningful vehicle for mutual communication through the sharing of physical, emotional and spiritual growth and development.
AWARDS AND DISTINCTIONS:
2002 The New York State Liberty Award for the photography exhibition, Portraits and Conversations: 9/11
2002 Curator of Art, Fantasy: From the Sensual to the Erotic, Danny Simmons’ Corridor Gallery, Brooklyn, New York
2000 Commendation from the Consulate General of Nigeria for the photographic exhibition, Celebrating the Spirit of Nigeria
2000 Community Arts Initiative Award, African Dance and Slow Motion, Lower Manhattan Community Council
1999 Kodak/LACC 70th Anniversary Photo Contest, Los Angeles City College Foundation, Los Angeles, California