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November 8, 2015 8:56 PM   Subscribe

Frederick Douglass's Faith in Photography by Matthew Pratt Guterl [The New Republic] How the former slave and abolitionist became the most photographed man in America.
He wrote essays on the photograph and its majesty, posed for hundreds of different portraits, many of them endlessly copied and distributed around the United States. He was a theorist of the technology and a student of its social impact, one of the first to consider the fixed image as a public relations instrument. Indeed, the determined abolitionist believed fervently that he could represent the dignity of his race, inspiring others, and expanding the visual vocabulary of mass culture.

- Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century's Most Photographed American by John Stauffer, Zoe Trodd, Celeste-Marie Bernier [Amazon]
- "Lecture on Pictures" by Frederick Douglass [Library of Congress]
- "Pictures and Progress" by Frederick Douglass [Library of Congress]
posted by Fizz (4 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Let's also admit, he was a good looking guy.
posted by alex_skazat at 9:51 PM on November 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Douglass was brilliant and forward-thinking and this does not surprise me. He was certainly conscious of his image and the need to control it.

My favorite Douglass story comes from a docent at the Susan B. Anthony House in Rochester, NY who related that he was one of Anthony's favorite houseguests, as each confronted prejudice and they could share notes. A single woman entertaining a single man at home--and a black man at that--was pretty scandalous stuff but she didn't care. "And," the docent added with a smile. "Susan always entreated him to bring his fiddle."

To this day when I ponder the too-often grim lives of people whose primary focus is/was to improve the world, I think of Douglass and Anthony setting their struggles aside to enjoy some good old fiddling around.
posted by kinnakeet at 7:21 AM on November 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

Interesting confluence: see also Henry Louis Gates, Jr., "Frederick Douglass's Camera Obscura: Representing the Antislave 'Clothed and in Their Own Form'," Critical Inquiry 42.1 (Autumn 2015), 31-60. JSTOR link here.
posted by homerica at 8:32 AM on November 9, 2015

(aha: not so surprising a confluence; the article is a version of Gates's essay in the book that the Atlantic article mentions.)
posted by homerica at 8:46 AM on November 9, 2015

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