An Exhibition of African American Photographers from the Daguerreian to the Digital Eras
This exhibition consists of works from various mediums tracing an aesthetic and cultural trajectory unique to African Americans and American Art. These art works selected from the permanent collections offer the strongest affirmation that the human face and body are the most enduring subject in the visual arts and in particular for African Americans artists.
A loose portrait print recently discovered in the manuscript collection of Phillis Wheatley (c. 1753 – December 5, 1784), will be on display for the first time in this exhibition. This engraving served as the frontispiece for her book; Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral published 1773 in London. It is the earliest documented extant example of a fine art portrait of an African in Colonial America. The inscription in the oval frame of the portrait reads: Phillis Wheatley, Negro Servant to Mr. John Wheatley of Boston. The coming American Revolution was a rebellion to set men free. Wheatley’s portrait and her poetry, which has an Abolitionist and Christian theme, confront the viewer with the contradictory reality of American ideals versus its reality.
This disconnect is an on going theme in African American art that finds one of its strongest expressions in photography- the most democratic and mimetic of art forms. Photography’s accessibility has been instrumental in establishing fertile ground for an ongoing tradition of accomplishment at the highest level by African Americans. Beginning with its origins in 1839 to the present day.
Selected works including James P. Ball (1825-1904) oval sixth plate daguerreotype titled Mulatto Woman is the earliest photograph in the exhibition and one of the smallest. Contemporary photographer, Donald Camp’s portrait,Brother Who Taught Me to See/ Herbert Camp (from Dust Shaped Heart Series) 2006 is one of the largest. This portrait’s expressionist and painterly qualities imbue it with a love of form and mastery of technique.