In his daguerreotype portrait (seen on the left), a young Barnabas Root looks both calm and slightly anxious. Taken in 1860 while in the United States, this may have been the first time the 12-year-old boy had sat for a photographer, and he was certainly a long way from his home in Sierra Leone. A student at the Mendi Mission school in Sierra Leone, Root’s portrait is part of the American Missionary Association Archives, and is the earliest dated photograph held at the Amistad Research Center.
The image is currently on display at the Center as part of Amistad’s exhibition, Through the Lens: Photographing African American Life, which runs through September 27th. The exhibition highlights the Center’s photographic holdings, which are estimated to include upwards of a quarter million images. Amistad’s photographs range from the single example of a daguerreotype and other early formats, such as tintypes and carte-de-visites to modern-day photographs. Included are examples of 19th and early 20th century racial stereotype photographs, portraits of daily life, and images of protests and demonstrations against social injustices.
The exhibition itself includes examples of early portraiture of African Americans, as well as images of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, one of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery Marches, and lunch counter demonstrations. Photographers whose work is highlighted in the exhibition include: Arnold de Mille, Marion Palfi, Carl Van Vechten, Louise Jefferson, Christopher Porche West, Roy Lewis, Arthur P. Bedou, and Florestine Perrault Collins. Also on display are images from the Rex Madsen-Jimmie Daniels Photograph Collection. An exhibition checklist is available, and the exhibition is open during the Center’s public hours, Monday-Friday, 8:30-4:30. Please stop in to visit the exhibition and learn more about the Center’s photographic holdings.