Amistad exhibit takes visitors ‘Through the Lens’

August 1, 2013 9:00 AM

Alicia Duplessis Jasmin

Famed photographer Ansel Adams once said that people too often look at photographs instead of into them. But the photos exhibited in “Through the Lens: Photographing African American Life” at the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University provoke an inquiry of what the subject was feeling and thinking at that point in time.

Barnabas Root

A 153-year-old photo of Barnabas Root is part of an exhibit featuring photos of and by African Americans at the Amistad Research Center. (Photo from the Amistad Research Center)

In the very first case of the exhibit, patrons meet an adolescent by the name of Barnabas Root. Taken on Jan. 2, 1860, the portrait shows a well-dressed Root staring blankly into the unfamiliar box that would capture his image for years beyond those that he would live.  

At the time, Root was a student at the Mendi Mission School in Sierra Leone. The process used to create his portrait is known as a daguerreotype and is named after its French inventor, Louis Daguerre.

The photo of Root is one of many in Amistad’s exhibit, which showcases the daily lives of African Americans as they lived in front of and behind the camera.  Subjects range from early portraiture (like that of Root) to civil rights, entertainment, photojournalism and advertising.

“There are an estimated quarter-million photographs housed within different records throughout our collection,” says Chris Harter, Amistad’s director of library and reference services. “This exhibit gives people the opportunity to learn about the photographers and the photographs they took.”

Photographers highlighted include Carl Van Vechten, Louise Jefferson, Arnold de Mille, Marion Palfi, Christopher Porche West, Arthur Bedou and Florestine Perrault Collins.

“Through the Lens” will be on display at Amistad through Sept. 27. The center, located in Tilton Hall on the Tulane University uptown campus, is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

An exhibition checklist is available on the website.

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