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The Boss

Your Mirror: Portraits from the ICP Collection
Section: Self-presentation
P. H. Polk studied photography at Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, which was founded by Booker T. Washington in 1881. At a time when portraits of African Americans were often caricatures of existing stereotypes, Polk and his sitters created photographs that showed the pride and dignity of a black community eager to reflect on their achievements. White photographers have often dominated the narrative of the medium’s history. But Polk’s work influenced black self-identity and countered the many distorted and racist images that existed at the turn of the century. Rather than presenting the stereotype of a Southern “mammy,” The Boss is a powerful example of this talent.
The woman in the photograph is shown confidently, proud. She has her hands on her hips, looks straight into the camera, and presents herself without any reservations. She takes full control of the image and looks the viewer right in the eye.

Credit line

Purchase, with funds provided by the Lois and Bruce Zenkel Purchase Fund, 1982

Feedback Accession No. 96.1982.b