Oxford AASC: Photo Essay

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PHOTO ESSAY

African American Women and Photography

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ETHNOGRAPHIC PHOTO OF AN AFRICAN WOMAN

J. Barnett and Co. "Young Xosa [Xhosa] Woman in Costume; Wood Bowls and Gourd Container Nearby," ca. late nineteenth century. Courtesy of DOE Africa: South Africa: Nguni, Xosa 06048000, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

Photography dramatically altered not only the strategies for making racist images, but also enhanced their perceived veracity. Photography made it possible for ethnographers to make precise images of the bodies they encountered and made it easier for them to disseminate more of these images to a wider viewership, thus cementing their expertise in the field. Photography's approximation to reality convinced viewers that the camera-captured images were an objective equivalent of what photographers saw with their naked eye, rather than a mere likeness based on a subjective point of view. As a result, photographs became signifiers of truth and surrogates for reality.

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