By Lauren Victoria Burke, NNPA Newswire Contributor
On September 22 the photo exhibit Visions of Progress, Portraits of Dignity, Style and Racial Uplift debuted at the University of Virginia.
The photos, taken during the glass plate era of photography in the early 1900s, showcase Black residents and community leaders from central Virginia — mostly Charlottesville and Albemarle. The photographer, a white man named Rufus Holsinger, owned a studio in Charlottesville that made the images.
The images reflect Blacks at a time when most works of photography ignored their presence or reflected Black individuals poorly — if at all. There were many individuals who worked on the Holsinger portrait project. Though many were involved in putting together the portrait project, the main driver of the effort was UVA Associate History Professor John Edwin Mason, the chief curator of the project.
“This is not the culmination, but this is a milestone in the life of the Holsinger studio portrait project. It’s something that came together seven years ago, moving towards a moment where we can have a public exhibition like this where we could bring these portraits to the public to both enjoy us for their beauty, but also to use them as a way of seeing history. It’s a really important moment,” Mason said to about 50 onlookers standing in the gallery during its Sept. 22 opening.
“We have a very modest goal. We want to transform the way that everybody in central Virginia sees our history because we want to reach everybody in central Virginia, and we want to utterly transform the way they see. And I mean that in two senses. I mean it literally that when people imagine what Black folks looked like during the height of the Jim Crow era, they do not imagine for us. They don’t imagine Lena Taylor. They don’t imagine Fayette Johnson. They don’t imagine Henry Martin looking like this. If you know anything about Henry Martin you think oh, well, he was a ol’ timey negro. No, he was not,” Mason added.
The Holsinger collection of 600 photos of Blacks in the area will hang in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia until June 2023. The website could be viewed here: https://holsinger.iath.virginia.edu/.
Lauren Victoria Burke is an independent journalist and the host of the podcast BURKEFILE. She is a political analyst who appears regularly on #RolandMartinUnfiltered. She may be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com and on twitter at @LVBurke