One Book Collection Talk: Roland L. Freeman, Combing Hair, Amoke Alayoe and Her Children, Silver Spring, Maryland, June 1978

One Book One Northwestern (OBON) is a university‐wide reading program that aims to engage the campus in a common conversation centered on a carefully chosen, thought-provoking book. The Block is proud to partner annually with One Book to explore the themes of this shared text, selecting artworks from the museum collection that can broaden discussions. The 2023-24 One Book selection is the 2021 memoir “Crying in H Mart” by Michelle Zauner.

In October 2023  Isabella Ko, Engagement Coordinator, lead an online talk taking a close look at Roland L. Freeman’s photograph Combing Hair, Amoke Alayoe and Her Children, Silver Spring, Maryland, June 1978 Moderated by Melanie Garcia Sympson, Curatorial Coordinator, Collections Information and Digital Interpretation, the conversation reflected on the complexities of love, family, identity, and grief—that are present in the work, themes also central to Crying in H Mart.

I’m drawn to this photo and in the ways that, just like “Crying in H Mart,” the photo to me feels like it allows for more nuanced and layered ways of understanding that very complex relationship between a parent and child, and particularly a mother and daughter.

Something also I find really interesting is how beauty and beauty routines and personal care, how those might be aspects that affect such a relationship between a mother and child.

I think it’s noteworthy that Freeman titled the photograph the way he did, that he highlights this practice and act of combing hair through the title. In “Crying in H Mart” I find that Zauner talks about beauty and personal appearance, physical appearance, as a way to talk about her complex relationship with her mother, and as a way, specifically, to get at how Zauner felt like her mother sometimes was trying to control her.

We are introduced to this idea at the onset of the book in this quote. She writes, “My mother was always trying to shape me into the most perfect version of myself.”

Isabella Ko, Engagement Coordinator

About Roland L. Freeman

Born in Baltimore, MD, in 1936, Roland Freeman was an award-winning photographer and passionate documentarian of African American life and culture. With camera in hand, he deftly captured images of African Americans in both rural and urban settings. He spoke often of how being at the March on Washington in 1963 inspired him to take up the art of photography. Hearing the words of Dr. King and the others who spoke that day, he heard the call to contribute something meaningful to the Movement for Equality and Justice.

Learn more about his life and legacy.

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