Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

Introduction to African American Photographs: Identification, Research, Care & Collecting, 1840-1950

Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

Introduction to African American Photographs: Identification, Research, Care & Collecting, 1840-1950

Article excerpt

Introduction to African American Photographs: Identification, Research, Care & Collecting, 1840-1950. By Ross J. Kelbaugh. Gettysburg, PA: Thomas Publications, 2005. 120 pages. $14.95 (paperback).

In Introduction to African American Photographs, Ross J. Kelbaugh offers a practical guide to finding photographs of or taken by African Americans, collecting and maintaining them, and provides a gateway to the study of African American photographic history. It is an introductory text suitable for various audiences including non-scholars interested in the field, high school and college level students conducting research projects, and scholars looking for a concise history of African Americans and their photographic images and production.

The book's chronological structure helps readers with limited knowledge in the history of photography understand how the technology developed between 1840 and 1950. Kelbaugh follows the evolution of photography from the daguerreotype to the ambrotype, the tintype, and to gelatin silver prints with detailed explanations of their technical backgrounds. He also elaborates on photographic styles produced such as the carte de visite, the cabinet card, and the photo postcard. Each category has its focal points that reflect the period in which a specific production technology or style was popular. A famous picture of Wilcon Chinn with a slave collar, for example, is a representative photograph produced in the carte de visite. Some of the most popular images of Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and other prominent African American figures were photographed in this style as well. The book's rich photographic examples effectively showcase the development of photography between the mid-nineteenth and the midtwentieth centuries.

As a collector of African American photography, Kalbaugh shares his knowledge about the rarity of certain types of images based on more than their simple age or quality. Despite few variations between different photographic production types, photographs taken by African Americans tend to be less prevalent, particularly with regard to the nineteenth century. In general, outdoor pictures of African Americans are rare. Photographs of black female nurses and white children are also infrequent, as are photographs showing an African American male with a white female. …

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