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

Past exhibition

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.

Acclaim for The Paris Albums 1900

The Paris Albums 1900 exhibition looks stunning in the Rudenstine Gallery... as with all of your exhibits, this one is beautifully produced, rigorously researched and historically accurate. Its effect connotes great curatorial expertise and research, but also a superb aesthetic eye.

Henry Louis Gates Jr., Director of the Hutchins Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University

Framing the New Negro images within the context of the Paris Exposition, Du Bois' sociologist's eye, and the photographers' vision allows us to see the self-image projected by the sitter, think critically about the history behind the photograph, and explore the transformation of the mythos projected on the black community both by its own members and by the dominant culture. As we look at the photographs today, the difficulties of the past appear removed and unimaginable. These photographs explore a corrective visual history as they are read as images of self-empowerment, self-determination, and self-recovery.

Deborah Willis, The Sociologist’s Eye: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Paris Exposition

In Du Bois’ albums, blond and pale “Negro Types” are placed beside brunette and brown ones, a juxtaposition that challenges color codifications as markers of racial difference and the body itself as sign of racial meaning. Looking back on this period later in life, Du Bois would declare: “I was of course aware that all members of the Negro race were not black and that the pictures of my race which were current were not authentic nor fair portraits.” In his 1900 Paris Exposition albums, Du Bois loosens the narrow circumscription of race as defined by Francis Galton; he unfixes the “Negro type”.

Shawn Michelle Smith, Photography on the Color Line: W.E.B. Du Bois, Race, and Visual Culture

Revisiting these images today serves to remind us both of the history of the struggle for control of the black image in American society and the necessarily political discourses into which all black art at the time was drawn.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr, Vanguards of Culture: New Negro Icons

In partnership with

The Hutchins Center for African and African American Research

The Hutchins Center for African and African American Research supports research on the history and culture of people of African descent the world over and provides a forum for collaboration and the ongoing exchange of ideas.


Curated by

Renée Mussai

As Curator and Head of Archive at Autograph ABP, Renée Mussai oversees the Archive and Research Centre’s programmes. She is currently a PhD candidate in Art History at UCL, with a special interest in feminist and post-colonial politics of portraiture, gender and sexuality in Africa and the African diaspora.

Mark Sealy

Mark Sealy MBE is the Director of Autograph ABP. He is currently a PhD candidate at Durham University, his research focuses on photography and cultural violence.


Vanguards of Culture: W.E.B. Du Bois, Photography and the Right to Recognition

24 October 2013, 4 - 6pm

The Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, Harvard Univeristy, Boston

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About our partnership with the Hutchins Center

We are proud to partner with the The Hutchins Center for African and African American Research (formerly W.E.B. Du Bois Institute) since 2009, showcasing works from the collection and jointly programming symposia and associated events.

Previous Autograph ABP exhibitions at the Hutchins Center include:

Ever Young: James Barnor, 28 January – 26 May 2010
Rotimi Fani-Kayode 1955 - 1989, 29 January - 15 June 2009

Press contact

For further information, please contact Lois Olmstead at Autograph ABP - phone +44 (0)20 7720 92200  or email lois@autograph-abp.co.uk.

Additional Info

Rudenstine Gallery
Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, Harvard University
104 Mount Auburn Street, Floor 3R,
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138
United States

The Paris Albums 1900: W.E.B. Du Bois was first exhibited at Rivington Place, London, 17 Sepember - 27 November 2010.

As seen in:

  • Courtesy of the Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
  • Courtesy of the Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
  • Installation at the Hutchins Centre for African and African American Research