PHOTOGRAPHER MONOGRAPHS

PUBLISHER
Worcester Art Museum

BOOK FORMAT
Hardcover, 9 x 11.75 in. / 128 pgs / 130 color.

PUBLISHING STATUS
Pub Date
Active

DISTRIBUTION
D.A.P. Exclusive
Catalog: FALL 2017 p. 42   

PRODUCT DETAILS
ISBN 9780998681733 TRADE
List Price: $38.00 CDN $52.50

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In stock

BOOKSELLER TRADE ANNOTATION

A rare discovery: turn-of-the century photographic portraits of working-class African Americans in the North in the first decade of the 20th century
  • 230 photographs of the African American and Nipmuc communities of Worcester, Massachusetts taken in the aftermath of Emancipation and Reconstruction between 1897 and 1917 by an itinerant white photographer, William Bullard. This book is a rare document of turn-of-the century African American portraiture and is unique in identifying its subjects by name.
  • AUTHORS: David Angel is President of Clark University in Worcester, MA. Matthias Waschek is the Director of the Worcester Art Museum and author of Ann Hamilton: Stylus. Nancy Kathryn Burns is a curator at Worcester Art Museum and is the author of Cyanotypes: Photography's Blue Period. Janette Thomas Greenwood is Professor of History at Clark University. She is the author of First Fruits of Freedom: The Migration of Former Slaves and Their Search for Equality in Worcester, Massachusetts, 1862-1900.

EXHIBITION SCHEDULE

Worcester, MA
Worcester Art Museum, 10/14/17–02/25/18

William Bullard’s photographic portraits of the Perkins family, along with 
other migrants and their more established friends and
 neighbors, provide an invaluable opportunity to reflect
 on this American community of color at the turn of the
 twentieth century.

  

WORCESTER ART MUSEUM

Rediscovering an American Community of Color: The Photographs of William Bullard, 1897–1917

Foreword by David P. Angel, Matthias Waschek. Text by Nancy Kathryn Burns, Janette Thomas Greenwood, Frank J. Morrill.

Featured image is reproduced from 'Rediscovering an American Community of Color: The Photographs of William Bullard, 1897–1917.'

An invaluable record of African American lives in the aftermath of Emancipation and Reconstruction

This book presents a photographic narrative of African American and Native American migration and resettlement in the aftermath of Emancipation and Reconstruction. Taken between 1897 and 1917 by itinerant photographer William Bullard of Worcester, Massachusetts, these photographs address larger themes involving race in American history, many of which remain relevant today: the story of people of color claiming their rightful place in society and creating a community in new surroundings.

William Bullard’s heretofore unpublished collection of more than 230 glass negatives presenting the African American and Nipmuc communities of Worcester, Massachusetts, at the turn of the century provides an exceptional opportunity to significantly deepen our understanding of the use of photography at a political and personal level. Unlike most extant photographic collections of black Americans taken in this period, the subjects in Bullard’s photographs are identified in his logbook, allowing this book to tell specific stories about individuals and re-create a more accurate historical context.

In addition, though most publications engaging with African American history focus on the Gilded Age or the Civil Rights eras, this collection of Bullard’s photographs exposes a critical gap in many visual histories. Predating the Great Migration, these photographs portray a moment seldom stressed in the historical narrative, replacing stereotypical notions of poverty and dysfunction with accomplishment and respectability.


Featured image is reproduced from 'Rediscovering an American Community of Color: The Photographs of William Bullard, 1897–1917.'

Rediscovering an American Community of Color: The Photographs of William Bullard, 1897–1917

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FROM THE BOOK
Excerpt from 'Reimagining Worcester’s Community of Color: The Bullard Portraits, 1897–1917' by Janette Thomas Greenwood

Between 1897 and 1917, white itinerant photographer William Bullard made over 225 portraits of people of color, most of whom resided in Bullard’s Worcester neighborhood, Beaver Brook. Thirty-six of them are of the Perkins family, the largest number of any single family. Typical of the South
ern migrants who settled in the city in hopes of a better life, the Perkins family became part of a small but dynamic community of color made up of people of both African American and Native American descent, black Yankees with deep roots in Massachusetts, and a handful of migrants from the Caribbean. The Perkins family story provides insight into the vibrant and complex community that they and their neighbors created at the turn of the twentieth century, captured by Bullard in his stunning photographs. Moreover, the avid interest of the family in being photographed reveals the ways that people of color used photography to reimagine and define themselves in the aftermath of emancipation and Reconstruction.

The Perkins family was one of many Southern black migrant families that settled in Worcester beginning in the era of the Civil War. Natives of Camden, South Carolina, where they had been slaves of the prominent Chesnut family, Edward and Celia Perkins realized the dream of emancipated slaves 
by purchasing over two hundred acres of Chesnut plantation land in 1869. For former slaves, only family mattered more than land, and less than five years after slavery, Edward and Celia rejoiced in both. They worked the soil on Knights Hill within a stone’s throw of Edward’s parents, sisters, and brothers. With a strong military presence in Camden and the Republicans holding power in the state, Edward and Celia’s world seemed full of possibility. But their dreams would be short-lived. White backlash against black progress fueled the rampant terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan. A national depression coupled with dropping cotton prices made it impossible for the Perkinses, along with other local farmers, to keep up with mortgage payments. In the spring of 1876, they sold a sixty-acre parcel of their farm. That same year, through violence and intimidation, the state’s conservative white “redeemers” captured the state government, ending Reconstruction in South Carolina. Three years later, in 1879, Edward and Celia lost the rest of their property at a sheriff’s sale. They then turned north to make a new start, and headed for Worcester, Massachusetts, where they joined Celia’s sister Mary Stroyer, already residing in the city. Before long, other family members journeyed to Worcester: Edward’s sister Rose, brothers Abraham and Thomas, nephew Isaac, and niece Patsy. Toiling in “negro jobs,” as teamsters, hostlers, laundresses, and domestic servants, the Perkins family built a new life in the North. Bullard’s photographs celebrate their reconstituted family, their purchase of property, and their participation in community organizations and activities.

Bullard’s portraits of the Perkins family, along with 
other migrants and their more established friends and
 neighbors, provide an invaluable opportunity to reflect
 on this American community of color at the turn of the
 twentieth century. Predating the Great Migration of the
World War I era, the Bullard photographs help fill a gap 
in the African American migration story by telling the
 stories of families who left the South soon after emancipation and rooted themselves in the North before the massive migration of the twentieth century, a moment seldom stressed in the historical narrative. In Worcester they settled and often intermarried with people of color with deep roots in New England as well as with more recent migrants. Their story tells a fundamentally American story, of leaving an “old world” behind for brighter prospects; of making claims for full-fledged citizenship; and of creating new communities and families in a “new world” while preserving a vital connection with the old.

Exceptional in their ordinariness, Bullard’s photographs also capture everyday people in their own settings. Without a studio, Bullard photographed men, women, and children on their porches and in their backyards and parlors, providing us a look at a commonplace yet multidimensional community of color. Bullard’s sitters were not national figures, such as Frederick Douglass or Sojourner Truth, who have garnered the lion’s share of attention in studies of nineteenth-century African American photography. Nor were they photographed to make a powerful point about black progress and the accomplishments and aspirations of the “New Negro,” like the images curated by W.E.B. Du Bois for the 1900 Paris Exposition. Instead, his subjects are average people depicted in the context of their everyday lives.

The serendipitous survival of the photographer’s logbook make the Bullard images even more extraordinary. Nearly all extant photograph collections of people of color in this era—even the famous Du Bois images—are made up of unidentified individuals. By contrast, roughly 80 percent of Bullard’s subjects can be named, making it possible to reconstruct their individual stories as well as their local and national contexts.

The Bullard photographs also provide a prime example of ways that people of color embraced and used photography as both a personal and political tool. Many of the people Bullard photographed, such as the Perkins family, were former slaves and their children, and grandchildren. Their portraits reflect both the literal and psychological migration to the North. No longer “former slaves” or “freed people,” they reimagine and represent themselves as independent, prosperous, and fashionable turn-of-the-century Americans. Whereas most labored in unskilled “negro jobs,” their images reflect middle-class values and aspirations. At the same time that their Southern counterparts suffered from segregation, disenfranchisement, and lynching, migrants like the Perkins family used photographs to testify to their accomplishments in the North, and may have used these images to encourage Southern kin to move north. Moreover, Bullard’s photographs of people of color provided a political tool, allowing them to wield the power of self-representation. Images of respectability, family, community, and military service all made claims for full-fledged citizenship in an era that saw the serious erosion of civil rights for people of color and the proliferation of hateful racial stereotypes. Their images brim with hope, aspiration, and success and subvert stereotypical notions of poverty and dysfunction with pride, accomplishment, and respectability.

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