Even more than truth-telling, the truthful image represented abolitionists’ greatest weapon, for it exposed slavery as a dehumanizing horror.
Photographic portraits bore witness to blacks’ essential humanity, countering the racist caricatures evident in lithographs and engravings based on drawings.
Suddenly, it seems, the camera has become a potent weapon in what many see as the beginning of a new civil rights movement. But the link between photography (or film) and civil rights dates back to Frederick Douglass, the famous former slave, abolitionist orator and writer, and post-war statesman. He wrote more extensively on the medium than any peer.
It’s become a familiar tale: Increasingly, blacks won’t leave home without a camera, and, according to F. He frequented photographers’ studios and sat for his portrait whenever he could, especially while on the road, which was most of the time.
After Brady’s photograph circulated widely in newspapers and became ubiquitous during the campaign, Lincoln purportedly said that Brady’s portrait had elected him.
Douglass said the same thing: “The portrait makes the president.” Douglass associated photography with freedom, and the feeling was shared by many across the nation’s free states who embraced photography with a fervor that surpassed that of every other nation on earth.Through his images and words, he sought to “out-citizen” white citizens, at a time when most whites did not believe that blacks could be worthy citizens.The sheer number of Douglass portraits—160 separate poses, reproduced millions of times—conveys not only his faith in photography, but his understanding of the public identity he was crafting.Douglass’s portraits and words sent a message to the world that he had as much claim to citizenship, with the rights of equality before the law, as his white peers.This is why he always dressed up for the photographer, appearing “majestic in his wrath,” as one admirer said of a portrait from 1852, and why he labored to speak and write with such eloquence.Douglass defined himself as a free man and citizen as much through his portraits as his words.He also believed in photography’s power to convey truth. Comey, more police officers are thinking twice about questioning minorities, for fear of having the resulting film footage go viral.He became the most photographed American in the 19th century.By doing so, he was defying the static foundations of both slavery and racism, which are predicated on the idea that some people of a certain race are somehow immutably inferior to others.Douglass’s fluid conception of the self united art and politics.