The Paris Albums 1900: W.E.B. Du Bois
October 2013 - May 2014
Hutchins Center for
African and African American Research
Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
To mark the 50th anniversary of the death of the great civil rights activist, scholar and pioneering pan-Africanist W.E.B. Du Bois, our exhibition The Paris Albums 1900: W.E.B. Du Bois will tour to Cambridge, Massachusetts.
At the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle, W.E.B. Du Bois, the leading black intellectual and civil rights activist, and Thomas J Calloway strategically employed 363 photographs in the American Negro Exhibit.
It was during the same year in London, at the Pan-African conference in July 1900, when Du Bois would famously declare, ‘The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line’.
The Paris Albums present a selection of 200 portraits that Du Bois compiled for the volume, Types of American Negroes, Georgia, U.S.A. Retrospectively, Du Bois’ remarkable collection of photographs can be read as the origins of a visual construction of a new African-American identity. As such, it provides an extraordinary insight into the conditions of black culture at the end of the nineteenth century, only thirty five years after the abolition of slavery.
According to the historian Shawn Michelle Smith, these photographs functioned as a counterarchive, one that contested the logic of scientific racialism popular in the late nineteenth century, and thus transforming the photographic portrait into a site of African-American resistance.
Ranging in genre from mug shot aesthetic to bourgeois theatrical portrait, Du Bois’ intention was to produce a comprehensive, alternative view of the black subject, ‘an honest straightforward exhibit of a small nation of people, picturing their life and development without apology or gloss, and above all made by themselves.’ One-hundred and ten years later, Autograph ABP presents a selection from this important archive to re-examine the critical question of representation in the 21st Century.