"As a historian, I love history, but I love people more."
Aaron Bryant seeks a deeper understanding of humanity through images.
The curator of photography and visual culture oversees new acquisitions and exhibitions for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. When he looks at photographs of Black people at play, worship, work or rest, Bryant operates like a detective. He wants to bring greater context to a picture, and when possible, reveal an untold story.
Bryant spoke recently with NPR about the relationships between history, democracy and African Americans as the subjects of photography. The work is personal, he said.
"It's really asking the question 'Who were these people and what were their lives like?' "
The museum interprets everyday artifacts from Black lives — celebrated, heroic and ordinary. A hymnal book or a single page of sheet music. A shawl or a pair of tap shoes. Shackles or a bill of sale. A washboard, a banjo, or a child's casket. As the country's major repository of Black history and culture, its responsibility and stature are greater than other, similar museums before it.