Published Jan. 18, 2012
“Fair women are transformed into Negresses”(1)
The Uncanny Object
In the summer of 1976, employees of Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology discovered fifteen daguerreotypes in the museum attic. The photographs were made in 1850 and they depict five African men and two African American women, all of whom were slaves in or near Columbia, South Carolina. The names of the people are known—the men are Jack, Jem, Fassena, Renty, and Alfred, and the women Drana and Delia—as are a few details on the circumstances of their lives. The daguerreotypes are considered to be the earliest known photographs of identifiable American slaves.
The daguerreotypes are also among the earliest known photographs made to support anthropological science. Commissioned by the Swiss-born naturalist and Harvard professor Louis Agassiz, they were intended to serve as evidence for an early theory of human diversity, one favored by slaveholders. The theory, later called polygenesis, held that there had not been one act of creation—one original pair, as the Bible stipulated—but many: God had created a Black Adam and Eve, an Asian Adam and Eve, and so on. Diversity, Agassiz and other proponents of this theory claimed, dated back to Creation. Yet despite the support of well-known and respected scientists, polygenesis was not widely accepted because it contradicted Christian doctrine; however, for many it was preferable to the alternative explanation, that diversity was the result of changes occurring over vast periods of time. Evolution, as this idea would come to be known, conjured for nineteenth- century Americans images of racial shape-shifting and proved highly distasteful to most white people.
Not long ago I viewed the daguerreotypes at the Peabody Museum. I was writing a narrative history of the photographs, covering the social and political circumstances that led to their making and the meanings that may have been found in them.(2) This was a project I undertook in my own time—the book was my response to the powerful nature of the photographs—and it required a great deal of research in areas completely new to me, including the histories of early anthropology and slavery in antebellum America. It was only after six years of research that I had the opportunity to examine all fifteen daguerreotypes for the first time, the long delay due as much to my need to understand what I was looking for in the photographs before actually seeing them as it was due to the logistics of visiting the museum and the need to convince curators that I was a legitimate researcher. Decidedly rare and invaluable objects, the daguerreotypes are closely guarded by museum staff, and rightly so. I eagerly anticipated seeing the daguerreotypes in person, which I knew would be very different from looking at reproductions.
Gazing upon a daguerreotype is a peculiar experience. Made using a direct-positive process, the daguerreotype is a mirror image—the subject’s right-hand side is on your left—and a one-of-a-kind object: there is no negative, and so copies cannot be made unless the original is rephotographed. The image itself is ephemeral, disappearing when the photograph is tilted slightly. But more startling is the apparent depth of the image, a result of the way in which daguerreotypes were packaged. Placed in a decorative case with a glass covering to protect the surface of the image, the metal plate of the daguerreotype is a mirror image in a second sense: it reflects back your own image as you look at the photograph. At the same time, any bits of dust or marks on the glass covering are reflected in the photographic image such that they appear to be situated behind the person represented. This combination of seeing your own reflection in the surface of the image and seeing what appears to be space behind the person in the photograph creates a sense of spatial depth that is uncanny. To hold and gaze upon a daguerreotype portrait is to exist in a virtual space alongside the subject of the image.
One of the Peabody’s curators brought the daguerreotypes to me, each one carefully wrapped to protect the leather-bound case, the group stored together in a box. After the curator had removed them from the box, I was left with a pair of white cotton gloves and tacit instructions to handle the daguerreotypes with care. When I asked for a magnifying glass—each exquisitely detailed image is less than four inches across by five inches high—one was found for me to use. I started with the two images of Delia.
As I examined the photographs, scrutinizing Delia’s body with the aid of a magnifying glass—seeking in her image evidence of maltreatment, of the circumstances under which the image was made, and of her individual character—an unpleasant feeling came over me. Louis Agassiz had commissioned Delia’s photographs after physically examining her. The images were intended to serve as aide-mémoire to this ostensibly scientific examination and also as evidence of his findings, which he could show to other people. The photographs were therefore doubly linked to Delia’s violation: they were both the culmination of an invasive examination and a second instance of this objectifying scrutiny. And there I was, examining Delia much as the scientist had done: she was exposed against her will, and in her body I sought information, facts, evidence. That the kind of evidence I hoped to find differed from that of the Swiss naturalist offered little consolation. Ultimately, there was no avoiding the fact that I was regarding Delia as an object and doing so for my own gain. This discomfiting identification with Agassiz (not to mention slaveholders and undoubtedly others who shared their attitudes on race) brought tears to my eyes and led me to question my own interest in and use of the daguerreotypes.
I came away from the Peabody Museum wondering about my work and my relationship to images of suffering and oppression. Is it possible to look at these photographs in a way that does not reenact the objectifying gaze of the scientist, the slaveholder, and the photographer? How should we look at and write about images that are complicit with cruelty?(3)
One solution to this problem might be to acknowledge the “humanity” of the people in the photographs, as some writers have done. Delia was photographed for the purpose of proving polygenesis, which some people interpreted to mean that different races constituted separate species. Consequently, it provided scientific and therefore apparently irrefutable justification for slavery. Louis Agassiz examined Delia and the other people who were photographed on his instructions in order to determine their “racial type,” which is to say he viewed them as abstractions rather than individuals. We, however, know better. We view Delia differently, seeing her not as a racial type, nor perhaps even primarily as a slave (another kind of “type”), but as a young woman who worked on a plantation outside Columbia, South Carolina, and who was forced to remove her clothing so that a scientist could examine and record her appearance. We acknowledge her humiliation, and so recognize her humanity, and in this way restore to her what had been taken away. Alan Trachtenberg calls this “imaginative liberation.” By reciprocating the look of the person in the photograph, he writes, “we have acknowledged what the pictures most overtly deny: the universal humanness we share with them. Their gaze in our eyes, we can say, frees them.”(4)
But can we really say this, that Delia’s gaze, in our eyes, frees her? The metaphor of freedom is a poor choice, in my view. Looking at a photograph cannot “free” an enslaved person—only running away, manumission, or universal emancipation could and did do this, and possibly also moments of resistance. Looking at Delia’s photograph and seeing there a human being rather than a racial type or a piece of property does not magically restore what was taken from her; it does not redress the many wrongs, the many violations perpetrated against her, including having her photograph taken for scientific purposes. It matters how we regard such photographs because understanding why they were made mitigates somewhat the objectifying gaze, but such regard cannot have any effect upon Delia herself. To suggest that we can “free” a person by looking at her photograph is to overlook the specificity of that person, the very real details of her life, both good and bad: in other words, it renders her into an abstraction.
I also have a problem with Trachtenberg’s claim for a “universal humanness.” It is true that Delia was photographed for the very purpose of negating the idea of a shared humanity, and while there is nothing wrong with declaring an opposition to this idea—such assertions are perhaps even necessary, whatever their pitfalls—at the same time the history of early anthropology shows us that “the human” is far from a universally understood and agreed-upon concept. The theory of polygenesis, which was widely debated during the nineteenth century, held that the class of beings we had long called “humans” actually included many distinct types of beings. Such disputes over the cause and meaning of racial difference tell us that “the human,” rather than being a natural category, is always contingent on the circumstances in which the term is being applied—it is, in other words, a concept steeped in history. It is also another abstraction, however well intentioned.(5)
Imaginative liberation as Trachtenberg describes it seems to me the sort of thing Susan Sontag had in mind when she wrote, “Photographs turn the past into an object of tender regard, scrambling moral distinctions and disarming historical judgments by the generalized pathos of looking at time past.”(6) Since the daguerreotypes have so little to say about the people they depict, what else can we find in them but some elemental quality shared by all people? This is not an unreasonable position to take, but surely matters should not rest there. Elsewhere Sontag wrote: “No ‘we’ should be taken for granted when the subject is looking at other people’s pain.”(7)
The claim for a shared humanity with Delia says more about a need to distance ourselves from people such as Agassiz and the racial ideas he valued than about the person depicted in the photograph. After all, who wants to identify with a racist? At the same time, it is easier to base an empathic (and reassuring) gaze on the catchall notion of a shared humanity than on anything about Delia as an individual because we know so little about her. The archives and libraries are full of information on Agassiz—his correspondence, published scientific work, and books written about him—but there is precious little about the people depicted in the daguerreotypes. Nevertheless, we do know some details about Delia’s life. For example, her job was with a blacksmith, an unusual occupation for a woman in the nineteenth century, even on a plantation.(8) Contemporary slave narratives also tell us about living conditions under slavery. So there are sources that could be used to say something specific about Delia. Yet, as I became involved in my own work, I was surprised to find that none of the scholars and historians who had written about the photographs seemed to have considered Delia, Jack, Jem, Drana, Alfred, Renty, and Fassena as individuals. They made no room for Delia as a person, presenting her only as the object of scientific and photographic scrutiny, and an example of universal humanness.(9)
Shifting the focus from discussions of vitriolic racism, political oppression, and the abuse of individuals to the more reassuring vision of universal humanity (and with it the suggestion that we are far from such horrors today) may ease the discomfort of looking at images of suffering but it also excuses us from looking at these images and thinking about whom and what they depict.
Once we look away, it is difficult to look back.
Sitting in the Peabody Museum, disturbed by the way scrutiny of the daguerreotypes brought me uncomfortably close to Agassiz, I decided that in my own work I needed to depict the people in the photographs as individuals, as subjects rather than objects. By doing this I could disrupt the original intended meaning of the photographs, influencing how others saw the images and the people in them. But could I in fact do this, especially given the paucity of relevant source material? I had discovered a few facts about each of the people depicted, but the prospect of simply working these into a conventional narrative history, where they might logically appear, was dissatisfying.(10) For instance, Jack’s involvement with the First Baptist Church of Columbia would be relevant in a discussion of how slaveholders used religion as a prophylactic against insurrection.(11) But dropping such a fact into the general discussion would have meant releasing significant information into a deep pool where it would have been all but lost. Alternatively, teasing out the implications of the fact within the discussion by exploring what it meant for Jack to be an active church member would create an awkward digression.
My solution for giving the people in the images a subjective presence in my book, balanced with the depictions of the men who made and used the daguerreotypes, was to use literary techniques. The first of these was to incorporate into the text the words of W. E. B. Du Bois, Ralph Ellison, and Zora Neale Hurston as a way to rebut the dominant racist discourse of the nineteenth century. The main narrative of the book presents the African American response to early anthropological science, with John H. Johnson, a “colored man” from Philadelphia, and the well-known black abolitionist Frederick Douglass appearing to demonstrate that not every American found polygenesis a compelling theory.(12) But I also drew from the wealth of African American writing that has emerged since the photographs were made. When Agassiz reveals his feelings of disgust for black people, singling out “that hideous hand” belonging to a hotel waiter as the focus of his revulsion, Zora Neale Hurston’s voice responds with a contrasting attitude. “But the thing that held my eyes [was] their fingers,” she says of her first prolonged encounter with white people. “They were long and thin, and very white, except up near the tips. There they were baby pink. I had never seen such hands. It was a fascinating discovery for me. I wondered how they felt.”(13) Agassiz and Hurston were both captivated by hands different from their own, but Hurston was moved to wonder what it would be like to touch those other hands, to engage in intimate human contact with them.
In another example, when the man charged with overseeing the commission for the daguerreotypes, Dr. Robert Gibbes, writes to a colleague, “I have just finished the daguerreotypes for Agassiz of native Africans of various tribes. I wish you could see them,” the reply comes not from the scientist to whom he wrote, but Ralph Ellison.(14) The passage in the book reads thus:
“I wish you could see them,” Gibbes wrote—but did anyone see them—really see them? And when we say “them,” are we talking about the daguerreotypes themselves, or the people depicted in the images? Certainly Agassiz and other men looked at the daguerreotypes, but what did they see? Did they see a slave? A young woman or an old man? A carpenter or a man from West Africa? Someone who liked to sing, or dance, or chew tobacco? Did they see a heathen or a sinner, a Muslim or a Christian?
“I am an invisible man,” says the narrator of Ralph Ellison’s epic story of race in the twentieth century. “I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, [fiber] and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind.”
How can a man with such attributes, a human being, be invisible?
“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”
For Ellison, to render a man black requires only that you look closely, scrutinize his body, his movements and his manner, and at the same time that you see nothing of the man. “When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me.”(15)
In dialogues across time and place, Hurston’s and Ellison’s voices respond to those of Agassiz and Gibbes—speaking for Delia and indeed for many other enslaved people—and in so doing prevent the racist attitudes of the nineteenth century from going unanswered.
My second literary technique was to use fiction to present the men and women depicted in the photographs as active subjects possessing agency despite their status as slaves. To accompany each of the fifteen photographs, I wrote a short fictional vignette suggested by factual information, which considers the perspective of the person in the adjacent image. In this way the fact of Jack’s membership with the First Baptist Church of Columbia, a matter of church record, becomes a scene in which a man sitting in church allows the tranquillity he receives from religion to ease the strain of being a slave driver. This vignette not only presents the fact of Jack’s religious affiliation but also suggests an entire point of view, a way of being and thinking that underscores Jack’s subjectivity.
Even as they enrich the historical narrative of the book, the fictional vignettes also disrupt and complicate the more conventional account by presenting an alternative view of the person depicted, one that stands in opposition to the more familiar image of the objectified slave. A good example of this is Jem, who “belonged” to F. W. Green—this was probably Frederick W. Green, a mechanic from Massachusetts who lived in Columbia. Green seems to have owned the Red Bank Cotton Factory in Lexington, South Carolina, which suggests that in 1850 Jem lived in the city, rather than on a plantation. This background informs all three of Jem’s vignettes. In the first, he negotiates the potentially hazardous streets of Columbia, demonstrating his relative autonomy (when compared with plantation slaves) and his skill in dealing with white people in the urban landscape. In the second and third vignettes I emphasize Jem’s sophistication. Here is an excerpt from the second vignette, in which he serves dinner at Green’s house:
He stood outside the door, shifting his weight from one leg to the other. He had spent the day rushing around in preparation for the party, arranged only that morning when the Doctor paid an early visit. His feet ached.
The bell rang, a shrill summons cutting through the tumult of voices. He hadn’t expected it again so soon.
Before entering the room he took a moment to compose himself, straightening his jacket, smoothing his trousers, and removing all expression from his face. He could hear the Doctor speaking, something about a recent visit to Charleston. He waited for a pause in the story and then entered the room.
In the third vignette Jem finds himself again waiting, this time to have his daguerreotype made:
“We’re ready for you now.”
He did not move, not immediately, but when he did rise to his feet he stood tall and took a moment to smooth his clothing before following the man into the next room.
On both occasions Jem smooths his clothing before entering the room, a gesture that suggests he is self-confident and socially sophisticated. The gesture also creates a very different picture from the daguerreotype, and different too from the second vignette’s ensuing chapter, in which Jem and the other people are examined and photographed naked. In this way the vignettes, while presenting scenes relating to the book’s overall narrative, are designed to create an image that neither confirms nor reinforces the stark and brutal image of the daguerreotype.
The vignettes also function as alternative captions. The official captions to the daguerreotypes were assembled after the images were made and by different people at different times; they also confirm and validate the images as scientific objects. Each caption includes the photographer’s name, a title, the medium used, the date it was made, information about the museum that owns the image, and an accession number. The official caption to one of Jem’s photographs reads as follows:
Joseph T. Zealy, Jem, Gullah. [B]elonging to F. W. Green, Columbia, SC, quarter-plate daguerreotype, 1850. Courtesy President and Fellows of Harvard College, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, 35–5-10/53045.
The title of the work is drawn from the label that Agassiz’s colleague Dr. Gibbes wrote and affixed to the daguerreotype case in 1850; the Peabody Museum, current owner of the image, provided the remainder of the information. “Jem” was likely a name assigned by whites, and so may not have been the name this man used among his own people. The phrase “belonging to F. W. Green” underscores his status as a slave and so strips him of dignity and agency. The museum information has the further unfortunate effect of reinforcing the original purpose of the image by naming an institution, a scientific discipline, and a catalogue number. Nothing in the caption describes the image or tells us much about its subject (if we take “subject” to mean not early anthropological science but the man in the image). Rather, it suggests a kind of provenance, one closely allied with the status of the image’s object, the original purpose of the image, and its subsequent institutional uses.
As a caption the vignette offers something very different. By presenting the (imagined) viewpoint of the person in the image, each vignette offers a means of looking back from the photograph—a looking outward to accompany our looking at the image. This empathic view is made explicit in the first vignette particularly, in which Delia stares directly at the camera (and so at us) while having her picture made, but at the same time the fiction allows us to share her point of view, to look at her but also to see what she sees and how she sees it. While this piece of fiction can never undo the wrongs Delia experienced in her lifetime, nor does it claim to represent Delia’s actual voice, it can provide the reader with a view that counters our habituated understanding of enslaved men and women as passive victims.
“Fair women are transformed into Negresses”
The fictional vignettes are intended to permit the reader to imagine the points of view of Delia, Jem, and the other people in the photographs, to look at them but also to see what they might have seen—yet is such a thing really possible? More than once in the course of researching and writing about the daguerreotypes I was asked whether as a light-skinned woman I am qualified to imagine the points of view of enslaved Africans and African Americans. Are my fictions not a kind of ventriloquism or appropriation, one deeply inappropriate given the course of American history? Can we who live in a very different era really share the points of view of enslaved African Americans, or have I simply invented an affinity with the people in the photographs, one perhaps not unlike the common ground of “universal humanness,” in order to avoid my own uncomfortable identification with the naturalist and his oppressive science?
The medium of photography surely encourages feelings of closeness with the person depicted. As I’ve already mentioned, the physical properties of a daguerreotype bring the viewer and subject of the image into a shared photographic space, a juxtaposition that encourages identification. When too much light strikes the image, a daguerreotype will also become a negative image such that light tones become dark and dark tones light. “Figures have a strange effect,” noted the scientist Sir John Herschel upon seeing negative photographic images. “[F]air women are transformed into negresses[,] &c.”(16)
Another form of photographic transformation may be found in the case of Mary Mildred Botts, a seven-year-old “white slave” who was “so white as to defy the acutest judge to detect in her features, complexion, and general appearance, the slightest trace of Negro blood.”(17) Mary Mildred’s photograph, used by abolitionists to challenge the social and scientific classification of racial categories, relied on the identification white people would have had with her with upon seeing the girl’s image. But this identification also brought home the slipperiness of race and so the instability of social norms, thus unsettling the status of the viewer. Closeness with the subject of the photograph can raise some knotty problems: far from confirming an individual’s identity, photographs create confusion through juxtaposition, opposition, and transposition. Affinity between the viewer of a photograph and its subject, even across social and racial boundaries, and the uncertainty of this affinity are part and parcel of the photographic experience.
So back to the question at hand: What qualifies me, a “white” person, to presume an affinity with Delia, an enslaved African American, one sufficient to imagine and write moments from her life?
The question is not new. The difficulties of writing biographically about anyone, but particularly about someone of a different race, gender, social or economic status—or indeed from another era—have long been contemplated and tackled by biographers and historians, with more than satisfactory results.(18) The key is to situate one’s own subjectivity against that of the biographical subject with care and full awareness of the issues at stake. Race is an important factor in my encounter with Delia, if not the most important factor, for I would neither be looking upon her likeness in the daguerreotypes nor writing about her involvement in their making (and seeking ways to redress the injustice done to her) if she had not been black at a time of widespread and institutionalized discrimination. Race, in this respect, is everything, and consequently my own (different) race has to be acknowledged.
Race, however, was not an important factor in writing the vignettes. Delia was more than simply “black”; her identity and the kinds of experiences she may have had and with which a person might (or might not) be able to identify go well beyond the color of her skin. When writing about Delia and imaging a personality for her, I did not think of her as African American or enslaved, but as a young woman who worked hard at her job and did not always understand the world around her. Similarly, Jack was not just a slave driver but also a father and a man who found solace in religion, and Jem for me was a man deeply proud of his intelligence and guile. In other words, in devising my fictions, I explored different facets of each person, aspects of their (possible) personalities as suggested by known historical details. The photographs may be about race, intended as they were to prove a theory of racial diversity, but my fictions are not. They are about individual men and women endeavoring to cope with and understand the immediate circumstances of their lives.
The fact remains, however, that we do not—cannot possibly—know what Delia thought nor can we apprehend her actual personality. “So maybe you see me but you sho in hell don’t see what I see.”(19) So says one man to another in Ralph Ellison’s posthumously published novel Juneteenth, a forceful reminder that research and imagination can take us only so far and that my fictions cannot possibly speak of Delia’s actual experience. But given the broader history in which Delia and her photographs figure, I’ll take a few moments of what she may have thought over nothing at all from her perspective or—worse—the scientist’s and the slaveholder’s points of view exclusively. We have plenty of the latter in the form of scientific treatises and pro-slavery tracts, and not nearly enough of Delia.
Postscript: Imaginative Liberation Revisited
In a discussion of the photographs made by the Khmer Rouge at Tuol Sleng prison in Cambodia, Susan Sontag wrote: “These Cambodian women and men of all ages, including many children, photographed from a few feet away, usually in half figure, are … forever looking at death, forever about to be murdered, forever wronged.”(20) I find this passage deeply disturbing. Why condemn these people to such a terrible fate, the very same fate the Khmer Rouge envisioned for them when the images were made? Are these people only to be remembered as victims? Perhaps this is what Alan Trachtenberg really meant by “imaginative liberation”—not to liberate people from their lives or undo the grave injustices they experienced, but to release them from the photograph, from the frame that holds them endlessly in the pose of the victim. Delia, Jack, and the many other people enslaved in Southern cities and on plantations were not slaves only; they were many other things besides, their personalities no less complex than our own. It may not be easy to see past the painful circumstances of the photograph, but surely there are perspectives other than victimhood from which we should endeavor to look.
(1) I thank Kat Foxhall for reading a draft of this essay and providing cogent and helpful comments. I am also grateful to Gregory Fried for inviting me to contribute to the Mirror of Race project.
(2) Molly Rogers, Delia’s Tears: Race, Science, and Photography in Nineteenth-Century America (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2010).
(3) I take it for granted that we must look, that not looking is simply not an option because without the images we would know nothing whatsoever of Delia. Her photographs convey infinitely more of her experience—however difficult this may be to grasp with any degree of certainty—than the traces of her life as recorded in the historical archive. This is precisely why photography was such a revolutionary invention.
(4) Alan Trachtenberg, Reading American Photographs: Images as History, Mathew Brady to Walker Evans (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1989), 60.
(5) For a thoughtful, sensitive, and thorough discussion of the difficulties underlying the idea of a shared humanity as evidenced in the twentieth century, and with specific reference to photography, see Susie Linfield, The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 33–62.
(6) Susan Sontag, On Photography (1977; London: Penguin, 2002), 71. Sontag further remarks (p. 111) that this “humanity” apparently shared by people captured in photographs “is a quality things have in common when they are viewed as photographs.”
(8) Delia’s name on an 1852 slave inventory falls below that of a man identified as a blacksmith, with “ditto” marks appearing under his occupation and beside her name. Last Will and Testament of Benjamin Franklin Taylor, 1852, Richland County Probate Papers, South Carolina Department of Archives, Columbia, South Carolina. Elinor T. Reichlin, one of the discoverers of the daguerreotypes, first considered this document in 1976 but did not remark upon Delia’s apparent occupation. See the accession files held by the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University.
(9) One possible exception to this is Lisa Gail Collins: although she does not write about Delia et al as individuals, she does end her article with “an aesthetic retort,” a discussion of four African American women artists who address issues raised by the daguerreotypes and related images in their work. This has the effect—much like that intended by my literary interventions into the history of the daguerreotypes, discussed below—of responding to the proponents of racial science in a voice one might ally with Delia and the others. Lisa Gail Collins, “Historic Retrievals: Confronting Visual Evidence and the Documentation of Truth,” Chicago Art Journal 8 (Spring 1998), 5–17.
(10) I believe that this is particularly the case for a narrative history, in which historical details must be joined together to form a seamless whole, one that is more or less subservient to character and action: it’s not much good knowing Delia worked as (or at least worked with) a blacksmith if I cannot also say what her work entailed and what it meant to her.
(11) According to church records, a slave with the name Jack who belonged to Benjamin Franklin Taylor (as did the Jack who was photographed) was a member of the First Baptist Church of Columbia. Gregory A. Wills, The First Baptist Church of Columbia, South Carolina, 1809 to 2002 (Bentwood, Tennessee: Baptist History and Heritage Society, 2003), 293.
(12) This had not once been considered in the literature on the daguerreotypes and had been addressed more generally in only a handful of articles until the recent publication of Bruce Dain, A Hideous Monster of the Mind: American Race Theory in the Early Republic (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002).
(14) Robert W. Gibbes to Samuel George Morton, June 17, 1850, Samuel George Morton Papers, Library Company of Philadelphia.
(16) Herschel’s remark was about negatives made using Henry Fox Talbot’s paper-negative process, not daguerreotypy. Nevertheless, the phenomenon applies equally to the negative effect visible in daguerreotypes. Sir John Herschel quoted in Deborah Willis and Carla Williams, The Black Female Body: A Photographic History (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002), 1.
(17) “A White Slave from Virginia,” Frederick Douglass’[s] Paper, March 9, 1855.