Synopses & Reviews
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 andldquo;the problem of the twentieth century.andrdquo; Du Boisandrsquo;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 developedandmdash;including double consciousness, the color line, the Veil, and second sightandmdash;available to visual culture and African American studies scholars in powerful new ways.
Smith reads Du Boisandrsquo;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 Boisandrsquo;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.
andldquo;Photography on the Color Line should be widely read and widely taught. In this outstanding book, Shawn Michelle Smith has offered not only a spirited reading of a historically important group of photographs but also a methodology and theoretical grounding that are widely applicable even beyond the specific archive of the Du Bois photographs.andrdquo;andmdash;Laura Wexler, author of Tender Violence: Domestic Visions in an Age of U.S. Imperialism
andldquo;Photography on the Color Line is both a complicated and fascinating read on race, human displays at expositions, and Du Boisandrsquo;s notion of double consciousness. It is groundbreaking work on the Du Boisian concept of life on the color line.andrdquo;andmdash;Deborah Willis, coauthor of A Small Nation of People: W. E. B. Du Bois and African American Portraits of Progress
An exploration of the visual meaning of the color line and racial politics through the analysis of archival photographs collected by W.E.B. Du Bois and exhibited at the Paris Exposition of 1900.
About the Author
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.