The exhibit is divided into two components. The first series includes images produced from Washington's Hartford studio. The second series of daguerreotypes are of Liberian emigrants. Most of the images include traditional studio props and some of the descriptions go into great detail about Washington's preferred poses for women and for young men. Early photographic journals, devoted to the daguerreotype process, described techniques for posing subjects, clothing, and useful props that would guarantee the best possible image. Washington's work suggests that he was familiar with the traditional techniques employed by a number of daguerreotypists.

     Two of the images are worthy of note. Washington's portrait of abolitionist John Brown (1800-1859), taken circa 1846/47, is one of his best known daguerreotypes. An 1854 portrait of African American merchant, Urias A. McGill (1823-1826), is representative of the prosperous clientele who patronized the Washington studio in Liberia. A comparison of the two illustrates the transgression from the simplicity of dress, background, and props of the 1840 daguerreotype to the complexity of daguerreotypes created in the 1850s and later. The curator provides an excellent primary analysis of Washington's work. With this exhibit as a basis, hopefully future studies will analyze Washington's work within the larger context of daguerreotypy and also compare his experience and work with other African American photographers in practice around the same time. The exhibit will travel in 2000 to the following sites:

National Portrait Gallery (Closed until approximately 2003)
Washington, D.C.
September 24, 1999-January 2, 2000

Connecticut Historical Society
Hartford, Connecticut
January 24-May 2, 2000

International Center of Photography
New York City
June 24-September 24, 2000.

Catalog:
A Durable Momento: Augustus Washington, African American Daguerreotypist by Ann M. Shumard
24 pages, 33 illustrations
The National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Paperback: $2.50 plus $2.00 shipping
Available at the National Portrait Gallery
Museum Shop
Telephone: (202) 357-2110

 

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February 2000