There is little public documentation about the private lives of African Americans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when their social transactions took place for the most part outside of public view and often away from the camera's lens. This exhibition offers a glimpse into the rarely presented everyday lives of African Americans through a variety of photographic genres and poses: formal studio portraits, casual snapshots, images of children, images of uniformed soldiers, wedding portraits, and "Southern-views" that were made for tourist consumption. While some of the sitters were celebrities of the day, the majority of subjects are unnamed Americans. The images attest to photography's ability to record personal histories for private uses and to create historical documents.
This exhibition and its catalogue explore ICP's Daniel Cowin Collection of African American History, a trove of more than two thousand postcards, stereographs, cartes-de-visite, tintypes, albumen prints, and gelatin silver prints. Taken together, these ephemeral images provide an important window into African American cultural life from 1860 to about 1930.
Curated by ICP Chief Curator Brian Wallis, African American Vernacular Photography is accompanied by a catalogue that includes essays by Wallis and Deborah Willis.