When I was trying to find the right direction for my last post, The Askews of Atlanta: Pretty as Pictures, I viewed many wonderful photographs that were used in the American Negro Exhibit at the Exposition Universalle in Paris, France over 100 years ago. Yet, so many of them had already been used by other African American bloggers and on so many other sites that I had to find what I thought was a unique way to narrow the focus and still be able to grace my own site with their exquisiteness.
Commissioned and compiled by W.E.B. Dubois, the visage, deportment and total physicality of the subjects and their surroundings were to help encapsulize an image that countered the prevailing nagging and negative stereotypes of Africa's descendants in America. They were young students, teachers, church and community leaders, doctors, lawyers and business owners. They were captured by the camera adorned in silk, lace, starched collars and stickpins.
Hundreds of images of who and what Dubois would soon call the Talented Tenth had arrived in Paris, France by way of Alabama and Georgia packed in boxes and crates and embodied on 5 x 7 prints, and they more than admirably accomplished their goal. When the exhibit was over, the photos were packed up and sent back to America where they'd languish in obscurity for the next 100 years. Unfortunately, 99% of the subjects (if not their photographers) were never identified, and thus could never be identified for our generation. But that hasn't stopped us from thinking we know something about them.
Consider the two images here of the same young unnamed brotha, probably in his early twenties, probably a student at one of the participating universities of Fisk, Howard or Hampton, probably very self-possessed and probably a lot of other things.
I asked several people what they thought they saw just by looking at the photo, and these are just a few of the responses: arrogant, pampered, prissy, sissy, erudite, educated, upper class, grand, refined, queen, Dark Gable.
Almost all of the respondents thought that the gentleman in question looked a lot like the writer, Keith Boykin. In fact, when I first saw the photograph over a year ago, the person I got it from had already labeled it "Keith Boykin's Great-Granddaddy" meaning there was something in the "arrogant, Dark Gable" visage that resembled the former black gay activist. I hope they weren't trying to imply anything negative about Mr. Boykin, nor am I. But I do think it's extremely interesting how so many SGL men found an immediate connection with an old photograph through projection, objectification, some kind of spiritual channeling or 21st Century reading of an 19th Century brotha. I'm not saying they're wrong! I just think it's fascinating! What do you think?