Academic journal article The Historian

African Americans in Early Photographs

Academic journal article The Historian

African Americans in Early Photographs

Article excerpt

The J. Paul Getty Museum, in Malibu, California, recently exhibited rare photographs of African Americans from the period of slavery through emancipation and into the early years of freedom. This was a landmark in the history of U.S. photography: no exhibition devoted to this period had been shown previously. The sixty-eight photographs in the exhibition reveal how quickly portraiture became widely accesssible through the new medium of photography, offering historians powerful images of slaves, freemen and women during a momentous period of American history.

Hidden Witness: African Americans in Early Photography was drawn from the holdings of the Getty Museum and of Jackie Napolean Wilson of Detroit, Michigan, who has collected photographs for nearly two decades. The exhibition was organized thematically, with images grouped according to subjects: women with children; couples; family groups; children; occupations; formal portraits of women and men; and scenes that survive as unique historical records. A majority of works in the exhibition were by anonymous photographers. Many were daguerreotypes, highly reflective images made on silvered copper sheets by means of a process introduced in 1839, which announced the birth of photography. …

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