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An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century's Most Photographed American

by John Stauffer ; Zoe Trodd ; Celeste-Marie Bernier

Pub Date: Nov. 2nd, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-87140-468-8
Publisher: Liveright/Norton

A visual appreciation of “the most photographed American of the nineteenth century.”

No, that distinction does not go to Abraham Lincoln or even Mark Twain, but rather Frederick Douglass (1818-1895). In his excellent epilogue, Henry Louis Gates outlines Douglass’ love of photography, and Douglass’ great-great-great grandson Kenneth B. Morris Jr. provides the afterword. Stauffer (English, American Studies, African American Studies/Harvard Univ.; Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, 2008, etc.), Trodd (American Literature/Nottingham Univ.; A Reusable Past: Abolitionist Memory in the Long Civil Rights Movement, 2015, etc.), and Bernier (African American Studies/Univ. of Nottingham; Suffering and Sunset: World War I in the Art and Life of Horace Pippin, 2015, etc.) provide an impressive collection of pictures with short descriptions of when and where the photos were taken. There are also reproductions of three of Douglass’ four speeches about photography, which give a wonderful picture of the man, his intellect, and his devotion to his main cause, abolition. Readers can feel the intensity of his love of photography and his powerful feelings about freedom. He felt that photographs were truthful images, despite the editing technology involved, and the strong effect of photos sent to the South contributed to secession. The photos of Douglass show a man as he evolved from first gaining his freedom in 1838. Most are head-and-shoulder shots, but his direct, defiant glare and his clenched fists indicate a relentlessly dedicated man who knew what he must accomplish. As his fame on the lecture circuit and his place as the foremost black leader of the 19th century grew, so the images show a dignified elder statesman who is still intense and wrathful. Also included are caricatures, sculptures, and political cartoons illustrating just how powerful the man had become.

The authors have pieced together an illuminating life portrait without extraneous biographical material, focusing intensely on their subject’s belief in the strength of photographs.