Thursday, December 20, 2012

Images of Emancipation

Check out Maurice Berger's post at "Lens," a New York Times blog devoted to photography and visual journalism.  It includes sixteen "images of emancipation" from a recent book by Deborah Wills and Barbara Krauthamer entitled Envisioning Emanciption: Black Americans and the End of Slavery (Temple, 2012).  Here is a taste:

As Ms. Willis and Ms. Krauthamer note, freedom for African-Americans was not instantly achieved with the implementation of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863; it evolved fitfully, over many decades. During that time, it was photographs created largely by and for African-Americans that helped an oppressed people to imagine their own freedom. Prominent black leaders, including Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, routinely turned to the medium, much as Sojourner Truth did, to further their abolitionist campaigns.

Soon, increasingly inexpensive imaging technology, coupled with a growing national network of black-owned photo studios, permitted African-Americans of all economic classes, even “the servant girl,” as Douglass observed, to construct their own versions of themselves. This affirmative imagery served to countermand destructive and pervasive stereotypes, steeling African-Americans against the ruthless forces of intolerance while simultaneously convincing white people of their shared humanity.

In the end, “Envisioning Emancipation” recounts a dynamic history of black self-possession and self-determination, one that challenges the abiding myth of the crusade against slavery and segregation: that of passive black victims who obtained freedom mostly through the benevolence and generosity of their white saviors.