African American Narratives

February 25, 2015  •  Leave a Comment
© Jack Mitchell/Courtesy Smithsonian Institution

This month sees the launch of Double Exposure, a significant new series of books from the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), produced in partnership with London publisher GILES. The three books in the series draw from the growing photography collection of the museum’s seven-year-old Center For African American Media Arts, and include images that span the history of photography, from pre-Civil War daguerreotypes to digital images. The first volume, Through the African Lens, presents an overview of the collection and “illuminates photography’s significance in interpreting and documenting African American art, culture, and history,” writes scholar Deborah Willis in her essay for the book. Through the African Lens includes the work of early black photographers—like renowned daguerreotypist Augustus Washington—and several historically significant images.

One example is McPherson & Oliver’s “Gordon under Medical Inspection, 1863,” which showed the terrible scars on the back of an escaped slave. It was published in newspapers and sold to raise money and awareness for the antislavery cause. Portraits of black soldiers, writers, artists, political leaders and other notable figures by photographers such as Leonard Freed, Lewis Hine and Ernest C. Withers are interspersed with depictions of families and daily life. In her introduction to the series, curator Rhea L. Combs notes how figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, all of whom are depicted in the book, “realized their photographic image could create a counter-narrative to mainstream understandings of African Americans.” Two other books, Civil Rights and the Promise of Equality and African American Women, are due out this July. —Conor Risch

Double Exposure: Through the African American Lens (GILES in association with the National Museum of African American History and Culture) is an 80-page book featuring 60 images.


No comments posted.