Frederick Douglass: Body, Spirit & Image in the #Manifest Project

I was a visiting faculty member at Rochester Institute of Technology when I began working on the first images that would later become the Manifest portfolio. One of the first objects that I photographed was a lock of Frederick Douglass’ hair in the collection of the Rush Rhees Library at the University of Rochester.

Hair, Frederick Douglass, Rush Rhees Library, University of Rochester, New York

In the collection is also a copy of The Works of Robert Burns, inscribed by Douglass to his son as the first book he purchased after becoming free of slavery.

First Book Purchased After Slavery, Frederick Douglass, Rush Rhees Library, University of Rochester, NY

First Book Purchased After Slavery, Frederick Douglass, Rush Rhees Library, University of Rochester, New York

As an Artist-in-Residence at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, NE, I expanded the work for the Manifest project through connections to various collections in Nebraska and Iowa. At the Nebraska State Historical Society, Lincoln, NE; I encountered Douglass again in the form of another lock of his hair. Douglass’s hair was part of a collection of hair mementos which included other members of the Douglass family.

Frederick Douglass Hair, Nebraska State Historical Society, Lincoln, NE

Frederick Douglass Jr. Hair, Nebraska State Historical Society, Lincoln, NE

Harriet Douglass Hair, Nebraska State Historical Society, Lincoln, NE

Rossetta Douglass Hair, Nebraska State Historical Society, Lincoln, NE

During the summer of 2016, working with Molly Roberts (then photo-editor of Smithsonian Magazine), I was given access to objects in the collection of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The photographs were published in the September 2016 issue of Smithsonian Magazine, dedicated to the opening of the new museum.

Ambrotype of Frederick Douglass, NMAAHC, Washington, DC

This image of the Douglass Ambrotype (not the published version) in the NMAAHC collection, encompasses the complex and powerful meanings of African American material culture and the often overlooked/excluded contributions to American history.

No comments yet. Be the first.