Don West: Black Boston's Photographer

By Bridgit Brown

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What makes a picture perfect? Some say it’s the light. Some say it’s the right angle. Some say it’s the subject in the crop of a frame, but Don West, a Boston-based photographer, says it’s the energy that a person, place, or thing emanates that makes him raise his camera to eye level, point it, shoot it, and share it.

He has had many lives prior to taking his current stance behind the camera. In his twenties, he was a professional bass guitarist, then he went on to study with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, spiritual leader to the Beatles, and founder of the Transcendental Meditation movement of the 1970s.

It was in the early eighties that he began taking photographs for the Bay State Banner, a newspaper servicing Boston’s African descended community. Since then, has captured volumes of photographs which he catalogues by themes: politics, culture, history, sports, music, etc.

The bulk of his massive stock of images are portraits of notable people like South African political activists Nelson and Winnie Mandela, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker, Stevie Wonder, Senator Edward Kennedy, Civil Rights activist Angela Davis, and Tito Fuentes (just to name a good few). He also has a collection of photographs that include his walks in Beijing China, and glimpses of a couple entwined in a tango dance Spain. In the fairly recent past, he had the honor of photographing President Barack Obama while on his campaign trail in the North East. Though it was Don’s pipe dream to become the House’s staff photographer, he joked about finally getting to know someone in the White House after all.

On a more serious note, he cites the economy and the advent of the digital revolution as the cause of the deteriorating relationship that now exists between photographers and major corporations. With the laying off of staff photographers to stay abreast in this economy, these individuals now have to compete with other freelancers for the fewer jobs that are already out there.

“Instead of hiring a professional throughout the year to cover everything that they do, which was the case back in the time of roll film photography,” he explained “now they’ve bought their own digital cameras and they do all of the in-between and major events themselves, with their staff and their digital cameras.”



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About the Author
Bridgit Brown Bridgit Brown
Bridgit Brown is a graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing at Emerson College ('98). She was a Fulbright Lecturing and Research Scholar in Cote d'Ivoire, West Africa, and her writing has appeared in the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Bay State Banner, Color Magazine, BasicBlack.org: Black Perspectives Now, Colorlines of Architecture, Exhale Magazine, Ibbetson Street Magazine, and Somerville Review.

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