Frank Stewart and John Simmons forged a friendship as teenagers on Chicago’s South Side in the mid-1960s, sharing a love for jazz and the visual arts. They also discovered photography together.
More than half a century after they met, the two are still the closest of friends. Mr. Stewart went on to join Kamoinge, an influential collective of black photographers, and is now the senior photographer for Jazz at Lincoln Center. Mr. Simmons is an Emmy-winning cinematographer who has continued to photograph wherever his work takes him.
And while they have collaborated on documentary projects before, they are only now exhibiting their photos together for the first time, at the Wilmer Jennings and Kenkeleba Gallery on New York’s Lower East Side. Their black-and-white photographs document communities of color in the United States and in Africa, filling a need both men felt deeply about.
“You didn’t get a whole lot of history lessons about African-American culture in school,” Mr. Stewart said. “My work is culturally motivated. I wanted to know where these polyrhythms, the roots of the foods and this rich cultural history came from.”
Over the last five decades, Mr. Stewart’s photographs — whether made in New Orleans, New York or the Ivory Coast — have explored the culture and traditions that were “carried by the slaves, and kept intact in some places and morphed into something else, like jazz, in others,” he explained.
Many of the images in the show were taken in the late 1960s and early ’70s, a time, Mr. Simmons said, of “hippies, artists, poets and antiwar protests.” He remembers “wearing a beret, listening to jazz” and wanting to be “a creative spirit” and express…