Early African American Print Culture

By Lara Langer Cohen; Jordan Alexander Stein | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 12
“Photographs to Answer Our Purposes”:
Representations of the Liberian Landscape
in Colonization Print Culture

DALILA SCRUGGS

Perched on a lighthouse, Augustus Washington cast his gaze over the landscape of his newly founded and recently adopted country. Standing high above Liberia’s capital city, Monrovia, Washington took a picture, capturing his point of view in a daguerreotype. This image remains only in the form of a wood engraving based on the photograph (Figure 12.1). The daguerreotype itself is unlocated. The print shows a vegetated landscape stretching into the horizon. The foreground is marked by palm tree fronds, which interrupt the sweeping vista of the town below. A cleared pathway winds along the center of the composition, drawing attention to the seemingly miniature buildings nestled in the forest. In the background, a river meanders toward the horizon, embracing the border of the settlement.

However, American Colonization Society (ACS) recording secretary Dr. James W Lugenbeel was not impressed. Upon receipt of the daguerreotype taken from the lighthouse, he told Washington, “Unless you get a good, clear picture it will not answer our purpose.”1 Thus, this photograph was found insufficient and Washington was enjoined to send another picture, this one picturing the city from its anchorage. The result was a wood engraving that portrays Monrovia as a blossoming “city on a hill” (Figure 12.2). In the years that followed, this “view” was reproduced several times in ACS literature and elsewhere, eventually becoming an iconic representation of the capital of

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