Picturing Frederick Douglass, the first major exhibition of photographs of the famed abolitionist, promises to revolutionize our knowledge of race and photography in 19th-century America. Many were unpublished, forgotten for decades, and previously unseen by contemporary viewers. Several were taken in Boston. Together, the images trace Douglass’s visual journey from self-emancipated man to firebrand abolitionist and elder statesman, and they narrate a photographic autobiography across a half-century of history. Douglass, who was in love with photography, sat for his portrait whenever possible, from his earliest known photograph in 1841 until his passing in 1895. As a result, he became the most photographed American of the 19th century; more photographed than President Abraham Lincoln.
Picturing Frederick Douglass offers a visually stunning re-introduction to America’s first black celebrity—immediately recognizable in his own lifetime by millions. Based upon a recently published book with the same title written by Drs. John Stauffer of Harvard University and Zoe Trodd of the University of Nottingham, England, also co-curators of the new exhibit, which shows how the abolitionist used photography as a tool of reform. Come hear about Douglass' strategic plan to present positive and accurate images of African Americans that contradict negative stereotypes of black life often seen in the 19th century.