"tantalizing for what they show, but also what they don’t show"
March 18, 2017 9:37 AM   Subscribe

Cornell recently digitized its Loewentheil Collection of African-American Photographs, 645 images spanning the century from the Civil War to the 1960s. These images are largely of unknown individuals, such as an elegantly dressed African-American woman from the 1870s; a late nineteenth-century man with a cane; and three small children. (Note that there is at least one image of a lynching and others of child slave labor.)
posted by praemunire (10 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

Wow, this is great. I like this quote from the first link (a NY Times story by Hilarie M. Sheets):
“One of the goals — both the Loewentheils in putting the collection together and ours in putting the digital collection online — is to push back against the predominance of material on African-Americans as enslaved people or working in menial jobs or other stereotypical situations,” said Katherine Reagan, a curator of rare books and manuscripts at Cornell. “We wanted to show a broader swath of people in everyday settings.”
Thanks for the post!
posted by languagehat at 1:00 PM on March 18 [6 favorites]

Thanks for the post!

Wanted to second this, this is fascinating stuff.
posted by mordax at 11:55 PM on March 18

No alligators here: Boy feeding pig.

Praemunire, thank you so much for posting this collection.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:01 AM on March 19

Just looking at the stereographs, but --

Interesting how many of the stereographs seem to be scenes of Southern life (as understood by a presumably white audience): some of them rustic yet idyllic (people dancing), others of them action scenes (the alligator above) or country life (the pig), and yet others absolutely appalling (picking cotton in the fields -- really?). It looks like a tobacco company spent awhile taking shots of the same group of people in various 'country' poses.

And then there's a handful of stereographs which may have actually been taken for the sake of the African-Americans posing in the picture. For example, Union soldiers outside a shelter, which is actually two men posing outside of the bomb-proof quarters of Union General Strong. (Sadly, this seems to have been one of the neglected images. The text on the back refers to other negatives that they couldn't make prints of anymore from the same time.)
posted by steady-state strawberry at 8:09 AM on March 19

Unfortunately and frustratingly, there were probably very very few blacks in the South in the 1860s and even later who had the resources to have stereographs made. The content definitely reflects the perceived potential audiences. So you have to sift. The individual studio portraits seem most likely to have been made for the pleasure of the sitter and their loved ones.
posted by praemunire at 11:03 AM on March 19

"Young boy being eaten by alligator" WTF?

I am going to desperately hope this is staged. I can only imagine it would have to be, to get it without blurring.
posted by schroedinger at 4:01 PM on March 19

I'm willing to bet money it was. Even with modern flash photography, trying to shoot that from that angle while a child was being eaten would be hard.

(It's not even particularly horrific, as far as staged events go. Most people have photos of relatives being 'attacked' by a stuffed bear at a museum.)
posted by steady-state strawberry at 8:02 PM on March 19

Most people have photos of relatives being 'attacked' by a stuffed bear at a museum.

There's a difference between staging this sort of thing with relatives, and staging this sort of thing with a child you literally own.
posted by schroedinger at 10:13 PM on March 19

The image dates from 1879, not 1860-odd. Based on the comment from the Union Soldiers photo (and the context of the photos from the same printer), there's a good chance the boy in the picture was born free.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 5:03 AM on March 20

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