Photography on the Color Line: W. E. B. Du Bois, Race, and Visual Culture

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Duke University Press, Jun 7, 2004 - Photography - 225 pages
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Through a rich interpretation of the remarkable photographs W. E. B. Du Bois compiled for the American Negro Exhibit at the 1900 Paris Exposition, Shawn Michelle Smith reveals the visual dimension of the color line that Du Bois famously called “the problem of the twentieth century.” Du Bois’s prize-winning exhibit consisted of three albums together containing 363 black-and-white photographs, mostly of middle-class African Americans from Atlanta and other parts of Georgia. Smith provides an extensive analysis of the images, the antiracist message Du Bois conveyed by collecting and displaying them, and their connection to his critical thought. She contends that Du Bois was an early visual theorist of race and racism and demonstrates how such an understanding makes the important concepts he developed—including double consciousness, the color line, the Veil, and second sight—available to visual culture and African American studies scholars in powerful new ways.

Smith reads Du Bois’s photographs in relation to other turn-of-the-century images such as scientific typologies, criminal mugshots, racist caricatures, and lynching photographs. By juxtaposing these images with reproductions from Du Bois’s exhibition archive, Smith shows how Du Bois deliberately challenged racist representations of African Americans. Emphasizing the importance of comparing multiple visual archives, Photography on the Color Line reinvigorates understandings of the stakes of representation and the fundamental connections between race and visual culture in the United States.


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Photography on the color line: W. E. B. Du Bois, race, and visual culture

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Interest in W.E.B. Du Bois doesn't seem to be waning after 2003's Souls of Black Folk centennial. Carroll, editor in chief of the Independent Film & Video Monthly Magazine, interviews 20 famous ... Read full review

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Smith is a genius academic. This book is fascinating. Anyone interested in the history of photography, racial representation, or African American culture should pick this up.


Photography on the Color Line
Envisioning Race
The Art of Scientific Propaganda
Families of Undoubted Respectability
Spectacles of Whiteness The Photography of Lynching
The Archivist in the Archive

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About the author (2004)

Shawn Michelle Smith is Associate Professor of American Studies at Saint Louis University. She is the author of American Archives: Gender, Race, and Class in Visual Culture.

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