Documentary Arts Blog Posts
The Library recently acquired a small album of photographs taken in Virginia’s Tidewater region. It contains six cyanotypes depicting work at the freight docks of Newport News and other subjects. Of particular interest is a laid-in cyanotype which appears to be a portrait of Frances Benjamin Johnston, a pioneering female American photographer.
Johnston was a remarkable photographer. She took portraits of American presidents and the high society of the turn of the nineteenth century from her Washington, D.C. studio, but also participated in ambitious documentary projects, such as her architectural photographs of Southern states. For one of her best-known commissions, she traveled to Virginia to document the students of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in 1899-1900. Her photographs of this important education institution for African Americans and Native Americans are preserved in her collection at the Library of Congress.
Based on the probable identification of the woman in the photograph as Johnston and the photographs of the area around Hampton in the album, these photographs have been dated to the first decade of the 1900s. However, no information about the photographer is yet known. Were they a student or colleague of Johnston? Is it possible that the photographs (or some of the photographs) are by Johnston herself?
The album is also accompanied by handwritten directions for making “Pyro Developer” and a “fixing bath for platinum prints,” which may provide further evidence that the creator may have been a student or novice photographer. (The large initial “B” on the “Pyro Developer” formula bears some resemblance to Johnston’s handwriting, but the handwriting of the rest of the formula does not appear to be similar to hers.)
If anyone has clues or guesses to contribute to the mystery of the photographer’s identity, please share them in the comments section below!
Post contributed by Will Hansen, Assistant Curator of Collections.
Join R!C!A! for a screening of Enemies of the People, 2009 (TRT: 94 minutes)
When: Thursday, January 23, 7:00pm
Location: FHI Garage, Bay 4, Smith Warehouse
Free and open to the public.
Cambodian investigative reporter Thet Sambath exposes the reasons for the 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge genocide in which almost two million people were executed. Thet conducted interviews throughout the countryside with men who actually carried out the killings. Courageously, they tell the truth and show where the bodies are buried. But many still do not understand why they were ordered to kill. A crucial piece in Cambodia’s national process of reconciliation, these testimonies trace the transformation of abstract political principles into mass murder. In English and Cambodian, with English subtitles.
Directors: Rob Lemkin and Thet Sambath
Awards: Anne Dellinger Grand Jury Award 2010 and Charles E. Guggenheim Emerging Filmmaker Award 2010
Contact: Patrick Stawski, Duke University Libraries: 919-660-5823 or patrick.stawski [at] duke.edu