Cover image for Hidden witness : African-American images from the dawn of photography to the Civil War
Hidden witness : African-American images from the dawn of photography to the Civil War
Wilson, Jackie Napolean.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
x, 134 pages : illustrations (some color), portraits (some color) ; 23 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
TR680 .W55 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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As slaves, African Americans were virtually invisible to history. Even after the Civil War there were not many African American photographers and very few people had the time, money or freedom to sit for a portrait. Consequently only a few hundred such pictures have survived from that time to bear witness to African Americans and the lives they led.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Photographs can provide a documentary glimpse at history. Wilson is a collector of early photographs of African and African American slaves and free black people in the U.S. In partnership with the J. Paul Getty Museum, Wilson afforded such a historical view into the lives of black Americans first in an exhibition, which took place in 1995, and now with this book. Most of the photographs--daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes--are part of his collection. In captions, Wilson paints the scene and reminds readers of blacks' situation during these times, in particular those aspects of the peculiar institution that restricted slaves from forming families, citizenship, and independence--in short, identities. The period of the photographs is ca. 1845^-65. Most of the subjects are unknown, except for a few people of status, such as Frederick Douglass. Otherwise, the people are descriptively identified, e.g., "Old Woman Wearing Bonnet," "A Kouave Tribesman," and "Portrait of a Mother and Child (`Madonna')." The text, composed of captions, is basically conjecture, but, then, the photographs themselves are the raison d'etre here, and they are eminently interesting and informative. --Bonnie Smothers

Library Journal Review

Hidden Witness consists of reproductions of 69 photographs--almost all from attorney Wilson's private collection as well as a few from the Getty Museum's holdings--that depict African Americans in the 1840s, 1850s, and early 1860s. Most of the photos are formal studio portraits, but others are outdoor scenes. The commentary by Wilson accompanying each photo is more personal reaction and interpretation than conventional scholarship. Something of the difficult lives and restrictive environment in which the pre-Emancipation slaves and freedmen existed are revealed through often subtle clues in posing, clothing, sitter's interactions, arrangement of nearby objects, etc. Considering the paucity of visual documentation from the era of American slavery, this collection of photos is an invaluable resource. In contrast, Jezierski (history, Saginaw Valley State Univ.) offers us a thorough, scholarly study of a heretofore little explored aspect of African American cultural history, detailing the lives and careers of a family of black professional photographers who operated studios in Pennsylvania and Michigan. The nearly eight decades in which Glenalvin, Wallace, and William Goodridge practiced literally spans the early history of photography in America. The Goodridge Brothers not only managed to establish themselves and then flourish as professional photographers, they also gained international renown for their expertise in large-format photography. Both books will engage two groups of readers, those interested in African American history and students of the development of photography in America. Recommended for all libraries serving either of those two constituencies.--Eugene C. Burt, Seattle (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.