I purchased this antique tintype photo of a young man a few years ago.
I am a lover and very amateur collector of early photographic images of African Americans. It's an extremely expensive habit, therefore my collection is quite small.
To temporarily satisfy my obsession with the art form, my boyfriend and I jumped at the chance to have a tintype taken of ourselves by photographer Keliy Anderson-Staley last fall. I was curious about the behind-the-scenes side of tintype photography, as well as the daguerreotype and ambrotype. All were popular forms of photography from the mid to late 19th century. (Tintype photography continued into the 1950s.) I know it might sound strange, but I also was hoping that I might be able get a deeper understanding for those who sat for portraits when these styles of photography were at the height of their popularity. Maybe, gain more insight into time they were living in.
The sitting was definitely worth the trek to Newark, New Jersey's Aferro Gallery. Set in an unassuming storefront in downtown Newark, this smart, accessible gallery turned into Anderson-Staley's portrait studio for a weekend. Contrary to a typical 21st-century photography sitting, we used braces to prop up the back of our necks to maintain our posture and instructed not to smile (because of the amount of time needed for the exposure). We loved every moment of it, especially watching our portrait develop while hovering over the tray filled with chemicals (maybe staying so close to the tray was not the best idea) we saw our image come to life.
One of the most interesting parts of the sitting, was noticing that the longer exposure time (roughly 20 seconds) often made photos appear darker than the subjects were in reality. That's exactly what happened in the lovely portrait of me and my boyfriend (see below). Over the years, I've seen a few tintypes for sale that have been advertised as possibly being African American subjects. (Note: Tintype, ambrotype and daguerreotype photos of African Americans often sell for a very high price.)
The Jenkins Johnson Gallery currently has a show called Connections which tackles the subject of race in the age of Obama. The exhibiton also features the tintype of me and my boyfriend. From the press release:
In collaboration, owner Karen Jenkins-Johnson and independent curator Lisa Henry examine artists who boldly speak on topics of race, ethnicity, identity and gender in America. At a time of a historic political change CONNECTIONS presents: iconic and legendary black artists of the Harlem Renaissance; established mid-career artists that continue to strengthen the African American presence in the art world; and the significant emerging artists that not only transcend aesthetic boundaries but have created a powerful discourse around social condition, personal identity, and cultural heritage in America.
Image courtesy of Keliy Anderson Staley.
The long list of artists in the show are Anderson-Staley, Romare Bearden, Sheila Pree Bright, Elizabeth Catlett, Robert Colescott, Gerald Cyrus, Kira Lynn Harris, Deborah Jack, Jacob Lawrence, Sonya Lawyer, Glenn Ligon, Thomas McGovern, Felicia Megginson, Qiana Mestrich, Gordan Parks, Lorna Simpson, Hank Willis Thomas, George Tooker, James VanDerZee, Hiroshi Watanabe, Carrie Mae Weems, Carla Williams & Deirdre Visser, Philemona Williamson, John Wilson, lauren woods, Reggie Woolery, and Mark Wyse.
Connections is featured at both locations of the Jenkins Johnson Gallery. My boyfriend and I checked out the galley's New York show last weekend and it was wonderful to see so many accomplished and gifted artists in one space. (the two pieces by Carrie Mae Weems blew me away.) We are traveling to the gallery in San Francisco next Saturday. The show will continue through March 28.
Below, are some of my favorite books that discuss early photographic images of African Americans:
- Reflections in Black by Deborah Willis
- The Black Female Body by Deborah Willis and Carla Williams
- Picturing Us: African American Identity in Photograhy edited by Deborah Willis
- African American Photographs by Ross J. Kelbaugh
- The Civil Contract of Photography by Ariella Azoulay