Tuesday Thoughts and Touching Base

John Edwin Mason, University of Virginia, standing, and via Skype, Scott French, University of Central Florida; photo by E. Lee Eltzroth

John Edwin Mason, University of Virginia, standing, and via Skype, Scott French, University of Central Florida; iPhone photo by E. Lee Eltzroth

It has been over one month since I posted anything here.  The previous month has been a whirlwind for me. In early April I was surprised and pleased to be invited to present at “Photographing the Re-Imagined Self: Early Black Portraiture in South Africa and the United States.” The invitation came from John Edwin Mason, who is Associate Professor, Associate Chair, Corcoran Department of History, at the University of Virginia. John is a photographer and he also teaches African History, and the History of Photography at UVA.

I have been a fan of Mason’s photography and of his blog for several years. I have shared links to his work with many friends. Take a look for yourself  http://www.JohnEdwinMason.com

The one-day conference, held on May 21, was part of the intellectual preparation for a 2017 exhibition of portraits made by Rufus Holsinger, and portraits of South Africans, to be co-curated by Paul Weinberg, of the University of Cape Town, and John Edwin Mason. Here is a recent article on the Holsinger photos and the conference http://tinyurl.com/ot7hf3v

As John wrote in his initial invitation “The planned exhibition will bring together images from The Other Camera, a presentation of portraits that were made by and for black South Africans, and some of the more than 600 compelling portraits of African Americans in the Holsinger Collection at the University of Virginia’s Small Special Collections Library.  (“The Other Camera” has recently been exhibited in Cape Town, South Africa, and at the University of Michigan).”

Now it is is hard for me to believe the conference at UVA has come and gone. Prior to this, my public speaking related to Georgia photographers was of the “this is what the Georgia Photographers Documentation Project is” variety. Speaking about this other aspect of my research and writing was a welcome, and good, experience. This independent scholar was pleased to be in such fine company.

In addition to the two persons speaking just before me – Sarah Stacke, photographer and curator associated with Duke University, on Hugh Mangum, and Janette Greenwood from Clark University, on William S. Bullard – heady comments were made by UVA’s Maurice O. Wallace. I particularly liked his “Kinship Writ Large” take on our presentations, and I think he also meant this applied to the conference as a whole. Wallace is co-editor of Pictures and Progress:  Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity (Duke University Press, 2012), which is a book I highly recommend. http://tinyurl.com/op6lc6x

My December 2014 post, an update to my series on “Researching Photographers Working in the South,” mentioned both the Holsinger and the Mangum photographs: http://tinyurl.com/o4ptcam  Sarah Stacke curated an exhibit on Mangum and is now working on a book about him – read more about that here http://tinyurl.com/q3zqc9x

I was unfamiliar with itinerant photographer Bullard, who is not of the South, but of Worcester, Massachusetts. He is still fascinating to me. Here is a link to more information about Bullard, and to the People of Color Project: http://tinyurl.com/pzqa447

That afternoon, Paul Weinberg and John Edwin Mason spoke on the connections between African American and South African portraiture. Liam Buckley, of James Madison University, followed with excellent comments; he asked the question “if there are African photographies, are there African-American photographies?” And I learned that Paul Weinberg’s catalog for The Other Camera is available for download in PDF at http://tinyurl.com/nmpamqu

A page from Holsinger's ledger; columns for date, name, price, neg. number; photo by E. Lee Eltzroth

Rufus Holsinger’s ledger has columns for date, sitter’s name, number and type of photo made, negative number, and price; iPhone photo by E. Lee Eltzroth

In the late afternoon there were presentations about the Holsinger Collection by archivist Edward Gaynor, on curating and exhibiting that collection from Scot French, via Skype, and the relationship of the Holsinger Collection to the digital humanities and current digital projects, by UVA’s Wayne Graham.

In prior posts here, I have noted several of the projects Graham mentioned. In an upcoming Tuesday Tips I will share a few others he mentioned that were new to me.

In my own conference presentation I wanted to make clear that, from my research, I know it was not at all rare for white Southern photographers to have both black and white customers.  I began by showing a selection of portraits of African Americans, fourteen images, made by Georgia’s white photographers. I then discussed Georgia’s African American photographers, including itinerant F. P. Pepper who had both black and white customers.

Finally I discussed the career of well-known African American photographer T. E. Askew, and his nearly thirty-year relationship with prominent white photographer C. W. Motes. I ended my presentation with a comparison of a very similar image from each photographer. I intend to develop the Askew-Motes relationship into an article — or at least another post!

Paul Weinberg discussing a painted wedding portrait made from South African identity card photographs; May 21, 2015; photo by E. Lee Eltzroth

Paul Weinberg discussing a painted wedding portrait made from two South African identity card photographs; iPhone photo by E. Lee Eltzroth

I was struck by the similarity of the image above, used in Weinberg’s presentation (a South African studio-manipulated wedding portrait), to an image I used in my talk that morning.

The Georgia Department of Resources holds a portrait of Harry and Eliza Stephens (see below, now at the Liberty Hall, Crawfordville, Georgia site in the Eliza and Harry Stephens house) which I know was made after Harry’s 1881 death. I theorize this image was made to mark what would have been Harry and Eliza’s fiftieth wedding anniversary in 1900.

The photographer, and / or an artist, made a copy of a seated Harry Stephens portrait tintype, made about 1875 by William A. Kuhns, and placed that copy image in front of Eliza’s photograph. The artist touched up Eliza’s lace collar, bonnet, etc. separately. I regret I do not have the right to post the Kuhns tintype so that you could see exactly what I mean.

Harry and Eliza Stephens. Detail of manipulated photograph, ca. 1890; courtesy Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources

Harry and Eliza Stephens. Detail of manipulated photograph, ca. 1890-1900, by unidentified photographer; courtesy Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources

About the conference, Mason wrote “We want to be able to view Holsinger’s work in the broadest possible context.” I hope my talk and comments helped to do that.  I learned so much, not only from the presentations themselves, but from my discussions with other participants. Some of us have since followed up on conference topics and questions for discussion via email. There is so much more to explore related to this topic, and so many more photographers and photographs to discover.

Portrait of an unidentified woman, silver gelatin print made by Holland, Albany GA, ca. 1905; collection Schomburg Center, New York Pubic Library

Portrait of an unidentified woman, silver gelatin print made by H. S. Holland, Albany GA, ca. 1905; courtesy of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Pubic Library http://www.nypl.org

I hope that my “thoughts” on this conference held last month inspire you to consider what is still out there awaiting our discovery. There are many, many portraits of African Americans by both black and white photographers to be found in family collections. I know that is where many more F. P. Pepper photos are – I know of only four, and I would so love to see more! What is in your family collection?

Before I close this post, I want to mention that before the month of April ended, my article “George  S. Cook, Itinerant Daguerreotypist in Georgia, 1848 – 1850” finally came out in the beautiful 2014 Daguerreian Annual.  This new article is more comprehensive, with additional findings, than my three 2013 “Cook” posts on this blog. My thanks to George S. Whiteley, IV, and to the the folks at Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries, for providing images for my use – and yes, I put that in print following my article.

© 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.

4 comments

  1. Congratulations on your speaking and publishing successes!

    1. Thank you!

  2. Congratulations for your speaking engagement. Whether black photographer or white – it’s the history in the final product that matters.

    1. Indeed, thanks!

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