Pictures and Progress

Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity

Pictures and Progress

Book Pages: 400 Illustrations: 71 photographs Published: June 2012

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, American Studies, Art and Visual Culture > Photography

Pictures and Progress explores how, during the nineteenth century and the early twentieth, prominent African American intellectuals and activists understood photography's power to shape perceptions about race and employed the new medium in their quest for social and political justice. They sought both to counter widely circulating racist imagery and to use self-representation as a means of empowerment. In this collection of essays, scholars from various disciplines consider figures including Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and W. E. B. Du Bois as important and innovative theorists and practitioners of photography. In addition, brief interpretive essays, or "snapshots," highlight and analyze the work of four early African American photographers. Featuring more than seventy images, Pictures and Progress brings to light the wide-ranging practices of early African American photography, as well as the effects of photography on racialized thinking.

Contributors. Michael A. Chaney, Cheryl Finley, P. Gabrielle Foreman, Ginger Hill, Leigh Raiford, Augusta Rohrbach, Ray Sapirstein, Suzanne N. Schneider, Shawn Michelle Smith, Laura Wexler, Maurice O. Wallace


“I recommend Pictures and Progress for anyone who enjoys reading about the history of photography, African American history, or those who like to consider new ideas about photography as an art form. . . . [O]riginality, fresh ideas and a good pace of content make Pictures and Progress an excellent read.” — Mary Desjarlais, Photogram

Pictures and Progress is an edited volume of essays that underscores the role of photography in the production of African American identity during the nineteenth and early twentieth century.... Its contributors are skillful scholars from diverse fields who employ a variety of critical practices to call attention to the cultural, social, and political aspects of early African American photography. These authors seek to disrupt the familiarity of photographs – more a means of persuasion than of proof – and emphasize the plurality of photographic practice during the ante- and postbellum periods.... Pictures and Progress is certainly recommended for art libraries that specialize in the history of photography or visual and material culture studies.” — Molly E. Dotson, ARLIS/NA Reviews

“[A] nuanced collection of essays. . . . that makes a significant contribution to our understanding of African Americans’ uses of photography in public dialogue by and about African Americans in the postemancipation era.” — Tammy S. Gordon, History: Reviews of New Books

Pictures and Progress is a welcome addition to the growing scholarship on African American photography.  The contributors have painstakingly revisited a moment in time when African Americans considered still-photography liberating.” — Christopher P. Lehman, Biography

“[T]his volume… will appeal equally to historians of photography and of the United States.  Together, the essays in this book emphasize the act of thoughtful, visual scrutiny coupled with the desire to use photographs to make sense of a past that has often been overlooked.” — Jasmine Alinder, Journal of Southern History

“As a decidedly academic collection of essays, Pictures and Progress will find its audience among scholars of visual culture and of African-American history. Yet there is enough familiar material here to bring in scholars of US literature in general, as well as historians of photography curious not only about how or why images are made, but how they are used both by viewer and viewed…. [A] useful and much-needed contribution to both the history of photography and to our understanding of race and representation in the nineteenth century.” — Adrienne Posner, History of Photography

"[A] novel and often revelatory study of photography and black agency that will quickly become a foundational volume for scholars of U.S. photographic history."  — Martin A. Berger, Journal of American History

“All the contributions leave readers with ideas worth mulling over and researching further…. Highly recommended.” — C. Chiarenza, Choice

“[A] provocative collection of essays…” — Jo-Ann Morgan, African American Review

“Most striking about Pictures and Progress is the sheer variety of stories it examines. There is no redundancy to the essays. Together, they reveal just how crucial, for good and ill, physical perception has been to the African-American experience.”  — Paul Yandle, Journal of the North Carolina Association of Historians

"Pictures and Progress offers insights to novices in the study of the black image in 19th century phoiography, as well as those who are already participating in this discourse."  — Bridget R. Cooks, Journal of African American History

"Pictures and Progress offers an important interdisciplinary analysis of the closely linked histories of photography and African American subjecthood." — Megan Driscoll, CAA Reviews

"The volume balances originality and scholarly substance. In this fashion, Pictures and Progress moves photography criticism and history away from the protocols of suspicion and toward the nuanced exploration of the material, its contexts, and the ideas of humanity that vernacular images propel." — Christoph Ribbat, Amerikastudien

“With its emphasis on the often radical roles that black sitters and makers assumed in the history of photography, Pictures and Progress offers a bold approach to the study of American visual culture, one that places black agency at its center. Its intriguing and persuasive essays elucidate the importance of photography to the creation of free, black personhood in the 19th and early-20th centuries and reveal the myriad and sometimes surprising ways that such hands sought to wield “the pencil of nature” in an effort to assert self-possessed, and therefore revolutionary, subjectivities during an era in which the dominant culture preferred to represent them as otherwise.” — Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, author of Portraits of a People: Picturing African Americans in the Nineteenth Century

“Pictures and Progress offers a new understanding of visual representations of black Americans in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Through its compelling essays, this work reframes the archive of images of death, beauty, and suffering of black subjects in photography.” — Deborah Willis, New York University


Availability: In stock
Price: $29.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Maurice O. Wallace is Associate Professor of English and African & African American Studies at Duke University. He is the author of Constructing the Black Masculine: Identity and Ideality in African American Men's Literature and Culture, 1775–1995, also published by Duke University Press.

Shawn Michelle Smith is Associate Professor of Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is the author of Photography on the Color Line: W. E. B. Du Bois, Race, and Visual Culture, also published by Duke University Press, and American Archives: Gender, Race, and Class in Visual Culture. Smith is coauthor (with Dora Apel) of Lynching Photographs.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction: Pictures and Progress / Maurice O. Wallace and Shawn Michelle Smith 1

1. "A More Perfect Likeness": Frederick Douglass and the Image of the Nation / Laura Wexler 18

2. "Rightly Viewed": Theorizations of the Self in Frederick Douglass's Lecture on Pictures / Ginger Hill 41

3. Shadow and Substance: Sojourner Truth in Black and White / Augusta Rohrbach 83

Snapshot 1. Unredeemed Realities: Augustus Washington / Shawn Michelle Smith 101

4. Mulatta Obscura: Camera Tactics and Linda Brent / Michael Chaney 109

5. Who's Your Mama?: "White" Mulatta Genealogies, Early Photography, and Anti-Passing Narratives of Slavery and Freedom / P. Gabrielle Foreman 132

6. Out from Behind the Mask: Paul Laurence Dunbar, the Hampton Institute Camera Club, and Photographic Performance of Identity / Ray Sapirstein 167

Snapshot 2. Reproducing Black Masculinity: Thomas Askew / Shawn Michelle Smith 204

7. Louis Agassiz and the American School of Ethnoeroticism: Polygenesis, Pornography, and Other "Perfidious Influences" / Suzanne Schneider 211

8. Framing the Black Soldier: Image, Uplift, and the Duplicity of Pictures / Maurice O. Wallace 244

Snapshot 3. Unfixing the Frame(-up): A. P. Bedou / Shawn Michelle Smith 267

9. "Looking at One's Self through the Eyes of Others": W. E. B. Du Bois's Photographs for the Paris Exposition of 1900 / Shawn Michelle Smith 274

10. Ida B. Wells and the Shadow Archive / Leigh Raiford 299

Snapshot 4. The Photographer's Touch: J. P. Ball / Shawn Michelle Smith 321

11. No More Auction Block for Me! / Cheryl Finley 329

Bibliography 349

Contributors 369

Index 373
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5085-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5067-5
Publicity material