What's a picture of black humanity worth? - Brief Article - Book Review
Black Issues Book Review, Nov-Dec, 2003 by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts
You could compare A Small Nation of People to an old family album, all dusty in the attic. This landmark book, however, comes from the Library of Congress, and the selection is from W.E.B. Du Bois's ambitious American Negro Exhibit for the 1900 Paris Exposition. For years, the photographs have languished out of sight, yet they now arrive to form what contributor Deborah Willis calls "a corrective visual history," for the blind spots on our view of the past, and the holes in the heart and mind where history and memory reside. If photography is our view into history, it is often like flailing in a dark room; we see only shadows and shapes. To consider these images is to mourn how little of the past can truly be known.
But the one-dimensional afterlife of these images is not so different from their purpose at creation. When Du Bois carried them to Paris they weren't intended for aesthetic appreciation; less than 40 years after Emancipation they were meant as empirical proof of the advancement of blacks, indeed of our very humanity. Hence, his pictures of dignified students and tradesmen, of elegant homes and stately churches emerge. Only a few pictures suggest the everyday lives of the dark masses whose "progress" from slavery to 1900 was almost negligible.
--Reviewed by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts is a freelance writer in New York City.
A Small Nation of People: W. E. B. Du Bois and African American Portraits of Progress by The Library of Congress, with contributions by David Levering Lewis and Deborah Willis Amistad, September 2003 $24.95, ISBN 0-060-52342-5
COPYRIGHT 2003 Cox, Matthews & Associates
COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group
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Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts "What's a picture of black humanity worth? - Brief Article - Book Review". Black Issues Book Review. Nov-Dec 2003.