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Camara Dia Holloway

(b Virginia, 1825; d Honolulu, HI, May 3, 1904).

African American photographer. Ball’s parents, William and Susan Ball, were freeborn Americans of African descent. J. P. Ball learned how to make daguerreotypes from a black Bostonian, John P. Bailey. He opened his first photographic enterprise in Cincinnati, OH, in 1845. Black-owned businesses seemed viable in this abolitionist stronghold and key conduit to the West. After a failed first venture and time as an itinerant photographer, he returned and opened Ball’s Great Daguerrean Gallery of the West in 1849, which became one of the largest and most successful photographic studios in the region with an enthusiastic multi-racial clientele. Ball hired other African Americans as operators, including his brother, Thomas Ball, his brother-in-law, Alexander Thomas, and the African American landscape painter, Robert S. Duncanson.

An activist for abolition, Ball produced a painted panorama that illustrated the history of African enslavement in 1855 and authored the accompanying pamphlet to great acclaim. With a national reputation and important portrait commissions from such cultural icons as Frederick Douglass and Jenny Lind, Ball expanded with a second studio operated by his brother-in-law who had become a favorite with clients. Together they started an additional studio, the Ball & Thomas Photographic Art Gallery. Ball’s Cincinnati enterprises survived well into the 1880s in the hands of Thomas and other Ball relatives since they remained current with photographic technologies....

Article

Geoffrey Belknap

(b Paris, c. 1816; d New Orleans, LA, Jan 9, 1866).

African American lithographer, daguerreotypist, and painter of French birth. Lion was born in Paris and trained as an artist in France before moving to the United States in 1837. He is noted as the first African American to adopt the daguerreotype method, and one of the first daguerreotypists active in the United States. For much of his life, Lion resided in New Orleans and operated his photographic studios in the city. He was active as a photographer for a relatively short period of time—between 1840 and 1845—and because of this only a small number of his views of New Orleans streets remain, primarily in the form of lithographic prints made from daguerreotypes (now presumed lost). In addition to making his lithographic copies, Lion gained notoriety in New Orleans for offering lectures and exhibitions of the daguerreotype process following the announcement of its invention. After leaving photography behind in 1845...

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Sarah Kate Gillespie

(b Trenton, NJ, 1820/21; d Monrovia, June 7, 1875).

American photographer, active also in Liberia. One of the few African American daguerreotypists whose career has been documented by modern scholars, Washington was born in Trenton, NJ, as the son of a former slave. He became interested in the abolitionist movement at an early age, and worked hard to achieve an education, first studying at the Oneida Institute and later at Kimball Union Academy, Meriden, NH. Washington attended Dartmouth College in 1843 and learned daguerreotyping during his freshman year as a way to help pay for his schooling. He left Dartmouth in 1844 and moved to Hartford, CT, where he opened one of the city’s first daguerreotype studios two years later. By the early 1850s Washington was one of the premiere daguerreotypists in Hartford, catering to a broad and fairly élite clientele. One of his best-known portraits from this period dates from 1846–7, and is the earliest surviving photograph of abolitionist John Brown (daguerreotype; Washington, DC, N. P. G.). Brown is pictured holding a flag, possibly for the ‘Subterranean Pass Way’ (Brown’s version of the underground railroad), in one hand; the other hand raised as if taking a pledge. Despite Washington’s success, he remained wary of race relations in the United States, unconvinced that emancipation would lead to improved circumstances for blacks living in the United States. Closing his studio in Hartford, Washington immigrated to Liberia with his wife and two children in ...

Article

Camara Dia Holloway

(b Philadelphia, PA, Feb 5, 1948).

American photographer, curator and scholar. Willis was born in North Philadelphia to a hairdresser mother and a policeman father who was an amateur photographer. Within a familial and communal context, Willis learned that photographs could function as powerful statements of African American identity. These ideas were reinforced by reading her family’s copy of the publication The Sweet Flypaper of Life (1955) that featured the photographs of Roy DeCarava, a major African American photographer. She also attended the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition, Harlem on My Mind in 1969. Willis earned a BFA from the Philadelphia College of Art in 1975 and an MFA from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 1979. Inspired by the quilting and storytelling traditions in her family, Willis developed a practice that combined her photographs, family photographs and other elements into autobiographical quilts. Her later works focused more on the female body.

From 1980 to 1992...