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Unidentified Photographer

[Three Minstrels in Blackface]

Date ca. 1870
Dimensions Image: 3 1/8 x 2 1/4 in. (7.9 x 5.7 cm)
Mount (Iron sheeting): 3 7/16 x 2 1/4 in. (8.7 x 5.7 cm)
Print medium Photo-Tintype

Your Mirror: Portraits from the ICP Collection
Section: Self-presentation
Blackface minstrel shows, first performed in New York in the 1830s, were one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the northeastern and midwestern United States during the mid-nineteenth century. White men darkened their skin, donned tattered costumes, sang, danced, and told jokes that supposedly mimicked enslaved Africans. These public displays of racism— blacks were represented as lazy, hypersexual, ignorant, cowardly, and superstitious thieves—encouraged white working-class audiences not to see African Americans as their equals. We do not know why these three white men (the center one is dressed in women’s clothes) had this tintype made. It is too casual to be a promotional image for a professional minstrel show, and the costumes may have been provided at the photographer’s studio. In any case, these subjects are not self-conscious about their presentation; their power and whiteness is affirmed by the camera through the performance of racist stereotypes.

Credit line

Gift of Steven Kasher, 2007

Feedback Accession No. 2007.54.22