African American Photographers in Georgia – Tuesday Tips

Johnston, W. Sav.Trib.5May1917p6John W. Johnston (1882-1966) advertisement, May 5, 1917 Savannah Tribune 

Before we are completely out of February, and Black History Month, I wanted to do an update on those Georgia photographers and their associates whom I know to be African American.

At least one of these photographers was born in the West Indies (John W. Johnston, Savannah 1914-1922), and another in Calcutta, India (N. H. Mondul, Atlanta 1916-1929; b. 1886), and the latter’s ancestry was not of Africa, or the Americas.  I may discover others born outside of the United States. I do not have complete birth and death dates on all of the photographers in my database, but I discover more details on them almost daily, and update.

In the past two years I have published several related posts.  A very early post, in May 2013, was a Monday Mystery focusing on a signed photograph of mine made by Atlanta photographer William L. Brockman, an African American who also ran The Princess Studio.

The mystery was solved immediately by a clever reader, my former grad student Wesley Chenault, now Head, Special Collections and Archives, James Branch Cabell Library, Virginia Commonwealth University. My “kids” have all done so well!

The post is here  The mystery answer is found within the comments – begin with the one at the bottom and work up. This mystery solved made me take notice of how very special this image of Dr. Henry R. Butler, Sr., made by William L. Brockman, is. Most Atlantans are more familiar with Dr. Butler’s wife, Selena Sloan Butler, but both were very active and prominent in the community.

I also wrote about a postcard image of World War One-era African American soldiers in Georgia – twice (did I mean to do that twice?). This image was another one that produced a lot of valuable comments and provoked further research by some readers.  See those posts here:  and here

My initial post on Grace Gray DeLong, “A Psychic Photographer, the Mysterious Grace Gray DeLong” indicated she was black, but as I quickly, but after the fact realized, she was actually white. She was a white photography studio owner and psychic who worked only in the African American communities of Savannah, Georgia. She traveled the South as a psychic for a number of years, and she always advertised in the African American press.

But Herbert DeLaigle, who I also discussed in that post, worked for DeLong in 1918 and 1919 and was indeed an African American photographer.  He continued as her successor, and worked as a photographer until about 1928. Those posts are at  and

A more recent post of mine discussed white photographers in the South who had African American clients visit their place of business (whether a photo tent, a photo train car, or a photo studio) and who photographed them with the same respect as they did their white patrons. Within this post I also discussed one of my favorite Georgia photographers, F. P. Pepper, an African American itinerant who had both white and black clients all over middle and south Georgia. He visited at least seventeen cities and towns to make photographs.

Another post I did focused on F. P. Pepper, his background and travels, which you can read here

Pepper 3 GAcities Sept.1910

I have touched on Georgia’s and other states’ African American photographers in other posts, in particular within my series on Researching Photographers Working in the South. You can do a search on this site for the term African American, and other posts should turn up, in addition to those mentioned above.

My database statistics as of this writing: I have documented over seventy-five African American photographers and associates working in Georgia (including those the white community most often cited as black, like Mr. Mondul). This includes five women, three of whom were already married to, or became wives to the photographers with whom they worked. I am particularly interested in gathering more information on these women. In March I plan to do a post for Women’s History Month, and I may be able to tell you more about them then.

The 1920 Federal Census cited 608 black photographers, including 101 women (The African-American Encyclopedia, 2nd edition, p. 1954). Of course, this probably did not take into account related occupations, so the stats may be even higher.

Smith Bros. W. VA Hist Col.

Photo of Mary F. Clifford, Student, 1906, Storer College, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, made by Smith Brothers Studio, Martinsburg, W. VA; in the W. VA & Regional History Collection, W. VA University Libraries  (022433)

Some interesting finds:

At least one white photographer, Louis Shapiro, advertised jobs in his Macon studio for “colored” women, as well as (white) “gentleman and ladies.” As far as I can determine, he only worked in Macon in 1918, and his help wanted ads may relate to the loss of men to the draft.

Throughout that spring he advertised first, for an

intelligent colored girl to make herself useful around photograph studio.

And next for “four intelligent colored girls to learn photography,” and then for

An educated colored woman to act as foreman in a photo shop.

All of these women were to come “highly recommended.” In September he advertised for

Two colored girls willing to learn. Paid while learning.

These Macon Telegraph advertisements ran from April 9 through Dec. 21, 1918 and are in sharp contrast to one run in that city fifty-three years earlier, in 1865, by photographer A. J. Riddle. Riddle made it clear he did not want to employ a black boy in his shop. From his studio in Macon he advertised for “a WHITE boy, to learn the art of PRINTING and TONING photographs.” (Macon Daily Telegraph, Nov. 14, 1865 p.2)

Atlanta’s Thomas E. Askew (1847-1914), an African American photographer who has become better known than his colleagues, is often discussed by photo-historians as if he worked independently for most of his career. He actually worked for himself less than fifteen years.  You can see Askew’s self(?) portrait online at the Library of Congress site; it is often reproduced

Many, many of his photographs are at the Library of Congress. This is one of my favorite images made by him. I have not decided which daughter this is, but he photographed his children often, and well.


 Untitled photographed by T. E. Askew, [one of Thomas E. Askew’s daughters, 1899-1900]; from the Du Bois albums of photographs of African Americans in Georgia exhibited at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900; Daniel Murray Collection, Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division (LC-USZ6-2232)

Askew had to apprentice to white photographers – it was really the only way in Georgia he could learn how to run a photo studio at that time. He began work by 1874 (possibly as early as 1871) as a printer for photographers Smith & Motes, he continued as a printer at the Motes studio until 1898, and was still with him through Motes’s short partnership with B. Frank Moore which ended in 1899.

In addition to T. E. Askew, C. W. Motes employed at least one other black printer-finisher-photographer, James Matthew “Matt” Mitchell (b. ca. 1852) through 1895. It is one of these two men referred to in the Photographic Times & American Photographer (August 1882 p, 333; September 1882 p. 348 – note the change in wording from one to the other) as the employee doing carbon printing for Motes, which required a great deal of skill.

By 1900, Askew was working as a photographer at his home studio on Summit Avenue. Two of Askew’s sons, Clarence and Arthur, also worked for Atlanta photographers in the 1890s and early 1900s. The city directories often noted them as “porters” – a euphemism I find was sometimes used for printers, finishers, etc. who were African Americans.

I believe that photographer Asbury S. Williams, in addition to T. E. Askew, also provided photographs used by W.E.B. Du Bois in the 1900 Paris Exposition’s American Negro Exhibit, for his Georgia Negro Exhibit. 

For more on these two photographers, see one of my past Tuesday Tips at

A. S. Williams (b. 1877; d. about 1935) worked as a photographer in Atlanta from 1899 to at least 1920. He apparently worked for himself a few years, then worked as a photographer for white photographer F. L. Howe, from at least 1901 until Howe’s death at the end of 1904. In 1905 the business was called Howe Photo Co, and Williams stayed.  It is quite possible he ran the Howe studio at times.

He was a finisher at Howe’s successor, Walter I. Cockcroft, for two years (1906-1907) before he went to work for himself in 1908. By 1920 Williams was working as a photographer for an engraving company; by 1930 he was in Washington D.C. and no longer in the business.

Williams, A.S. 1914 Atl cdAsbury S. Williams advertisement, 1915 Atlanta city directory

Although so many of the late nineteenth to mid-20th century African American photographers and associates I have documented had ties to Atlanta (thirty, including visiting photographers like A.P. Bedeou), black men and women were working in and for photography studios all over the state.

Of the total number of African American photographers I have documented working in other Georgia cities are: two in Albany; two in Americus; two in Columbus; three in Griffin; five in Macon; eight in Savannah; and eleven in Augusta. I believe this is only the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” and that there is a wealth of information to be had on this subject state-wide.

Prominent in Augusta was Robert Williams (1832-1917). He obviously received his photographic training early with Augusta photographers – he appears in the 1870 Federal census for Richmond County, Augusta, as a “mulatto daguerreian artist.”

He is first listed in the city directory working for white photographer John Usher, Jr. in 1872, as a photo printer (sometimes noted as Robert E., more often not). He stayed there through most of 1885, doing printing and retouching, and probably studio photography. In 1886, John Usher was not listed in the “classifieds” with the other photographers, but as a photographer at his home. Williams was listed again that year as a Photo Printer, and he may have worked with the Bigelow brothers, L.G. and H. Bigelow, who purchased Usher’s studio, which they called the Augusta Photo Company, in late 1885. (Augusta Chronicle, Nov. 15, 1885 p.5).

It is also possible Williams worked for photographer W.F. Prather in 1886. That year Prather was at the 705 S. Broad St. location that became Williams’ by 1888. Robert Williams officially brought his son, also named Robert E. Williams (1858-1937), into his business by 1895, as R. Williams & Son.

Although both are listed in the city directory as photographers in 1883 and 1892, prior to 1895, son Robert is otherwise listed in the directories at other occupations. Their joint studio lasted until about 1908 – they paid their last Georgia photographers’ tax in Richmond County in 1907, and 1908 is the last city directory in which they appear.

A series of stereo views donated to a Georgia repository is considered the output of the Robert E. Williams who died in the 1930’s, but he is likely being confused with his father. Several views included are very similar to or exactly like stereos carrying the mark of South Carolina photographer J. A. Palmer. Palmer made many photographs of African American life in the Augusta area from 1873 to about 1885, and so did John Usher.

It was quite common for one photographer to display and sell another’s work, and just as common for one to inherit or buy the negatives of a departing, or dead, photographer. I am not sure what happened in this case – of who bought or sold to and from whom – but the images should be examined and comparisons made.

I hope to eventually write here or elsewhere about the photographic images depicting African American life in Georgia that were made by white photographers, 1870-1900. There is much in that topic for us to consider and digest.

In closing I will, of course, mention that there are many collections in Atlanta and elsewhere that highlight or include images by Georgia’s and other states’ African American photographers. See The Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History, The Atlanta History Center, the University of Georgia Special Collections Libraries, the Atlanta University Center Woodruff Library Archives, and Emory University’s MARBL. These are only some of the repositories holding these photographs, see also the Digital Library of Georgia for access to these and other significant collections.

Several worthwhile collections outside of Georgia hold these images. The University of Delaware has the collection of Atlanta collector Paul R. Jones, which includes photographs among his donation of artworks by African Americans. Some may currently be on exhibit.

A current film is available that discusses African American photographers and the depiction of African Americans in the United States. Check out the Through A Lens Darkly by Thomas Allen Harris.

There are also websites, articles, and dissertations online on the subject, as well as books (in your library or to purchase) to be examined. Look at the books of authors Deborah Willis, and Shawn Michelle Smith, who both wrote interesting, intelligent books, published in 2003 and 2004, on W. E. B. Du Bose and Georgia photographs used in the American Negro Exhibit.

Other significant books on black photographers were written by Deborah Willis. She was also a consultant on an older book that is a favorite of mine. Viewfinders: Black Women Photographers (hardback 1986, paperback 1993) by photographer Jeanne Moutoussamy Ashe which contains historical statistics on women in the field in the very first chapter.

Herman “Skip” Mason has published in particular on the photography of and by African Americans in the Atlanta metro area.

These are all fine publications, and significant contributions to American photo-history, but those to come can go further, and delve deeper into the lives of these undocumented photographers. There is much positive to discover here – and yes, I have come across unpleasant information related to photography and African Americans, but I have found a great deal of information that makes me want to get up and dance!

Did the Louis Shapiro photo studio have an African American woman foreman? Who did J. W. Johnston teach through his correspondence school? There are exciting research projects for someone within these (and other) questions.

Please feel free to contact me with more information on particular Georgia photographers or their associates, or corrections to the information I include here. Meanwhile keep up the Hunt!

© E. Lee Eltzroth and Hunting & Gathering, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without  written permission from this blog’s author is prohibited. The piece can be re-blogged, and excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to E. Lee Eltzroth and Hunting & Gathering, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


  1. Frances O. Robb · · Reply

    As usual, an excellently researched and thought-provoking essay. It made me count the black photographers in my Alabama checklist, 1839-1941. I had only 40, so I expect I have not been as diligent as you have! Best,

    Frances Osborn Robb

  2. Thank you so much, Frances! It is amazing what is “out there” for us to find. I have gathered such interesting info on some of these photographers, and their associates. There are also those in the latter group to discuss, at some point. I look forward to uncovering more.

    I have found only (I think) two Hispanic, and one Asian photographer so far, and perhaps ten Jewish photographers, in Georgia. The hunt continues!

  3. Marilyn Michaels · · Reply

    I have a wonderful old photo that I am putting up on eBay and I came about your site while researching it. The attached photo shows two men, one black, one white, both elegantly dressed. The white man is seated. The black man is standing, with a cigarette in one hand, and the other on the shoulder of the white man. I say white man but he could easily be multi-racial. The photo was taken in Johnston’s Studio, Savannah, Georgia. I just love this site and will come back to it often I’m sure. I hope I can find a way to attach the photo here. If it is not attached let me know if you’d like to see it and I’ll send it on.

    1. If you would send the photo attachment to my email address, I could see it! Very interesting to hear about and want to see it.

      Thanks for reading, and I’m glad you like my site! Johnston is a very interesting photographer, and he and his wife later continued (or he only did) as photographers in California.

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