[Blackstudies-l] Long Lost Photographic History of People of Color on Display in Worcester

Maria Lima lima at geneseo.edu
Wed Jan 3 10:03:37 EST 2018

lisaparavisini posted: " William Bullard, Thomas A. & Margaret Dillion
Family, about 1904 A report by Margaret Carrigan for Observer. Despite
being virtually unknown in his lifetime—and even now—photographer William
Bullard had an incisive eye, capturing his small hometow"
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<http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/> Long Lost Photographic
History of People of Color on Display in Worcester
lisaparavisini <http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/>

[image: worcester-art-museum_e-132-16-1.jpg]

William Bullard, Thomas A. & Margaret Dillion Family, about 1904

A report by Margaret Carrigan for *Observer*.

Despite being virtually unknown in his lifetime—and even now—photographer
William Bullard had an incisive eye, capturing his small hometown of
Worcester, Mass., in the throes of change at the turn of the 20th century.

Now, a century after his death, the Worcester Art Museum
giving Bullard his due by showcasing portraits from an archive of 5,400
glass negatives that he left behind, depicting not only white middle- to
upper-class area residents, as was typical for the time in photography, but
also his neighbors from the Beaver Brook enclave where he lived, many of
whom were African American and Native American.

“Rediscovering an American Community of Color: The Photographs of William
Bullard” reveals an unseen side of Worcester’s history, bringing it to life
by connecting the subjects of many of Bullard’s photos with their
descendents in Worcester and beyond.

“When I first saw these photos
I was astounded by the quality of the images that were taken by someone who
was ultimately a vernacular photographer,” curator Nancy Kathryn Burns
said, explaining that Bullard—whose career spanned 1897 to 1917—is believed
to have been self-taught. “There’s simply no record of his association with
any local photo studios or popular camera clubs at the time, even though he
spent his entire life in Worcester,” which perhaps explained why his
photographs remained hidden from public view for decades.

Burns learned of the photographer nearly four years ago when Frank Morrill,
the owner of Bullard’s substantial archive, and Janette Thomas Greenwood,
author of *First Fruits of Freedom: The Migration of Former Slaves and
Their Search for Equality in Worcester, Massachusetts, 1862-1900* and a
history professor at Clark University, approached her with some of his
prints. Burns said that it’s not uncommon for owners of inherited or found
collections to approach her about the possibility of an exhibition, but
generally the archives don’t offer “enough to go on” to make a cohesive,
well-researched show.

What set Bullard’s collection of negatives apart, besides his facility with
a camera as evidenced by the composition of the images, was his inclusion
of hundreds of black and Native American residents, along with the names of
many of the portraits’ subjects. According to Greenwood, the minority
population of Worcester was about 1 percent of the city’s population at the
turn of the century.

“There was never residential segregation
se in Worcester, but Jim Crow laws were in effect, and there was lots of
racial discrimination that the community had to deal with,” she said,
especially when it came to employment.

Because they were denied equal access to work, many people of color at the
turn of the century didn’t have the means to have their portraits taken,
despite the growing popularity and accessibility of photography among the
aspiring middle class. Moreover, the racist cultural climate might have
prompted many minority residents to feel “uncomfortable going to a most
likely white-owned professional studio,” Greenwood said. Bullard, although
white, was a long-time resident of Beaver Brook, one of the city’s most
diverse neighborhoods then, and was not only known, but familiar. “He’d
just come to your house and take your picture!”

Which is why Bullard’s photographs represent such an important find,
according to Burns, since in terms of African American visual history,
there’s little imagery to be found between the Civil War Reconstruction
period and the Great Migration after the first World War. “There’s a real
gap in picturing the minority American experience that needs to be filled
in the early 20th century,” she said.

Including more than 80 percent of Bullard’s portraits of people of color,
“Rediscovering an American Community of Color” offers a powerful and unique
look at a strong community made up of recent Southern migrants, people of
Native American descent, black Yankee families and immigrants from the

The show explores in depth the economic and cultural issues that shaped
these groups, ranging from leisure and fashion trends to professional
aspirations. “It’s easy to see the importance of photography to document
first generations of both immigrants and, in many cases, descendants of
slaves,” Burns said.

Perhaps one of the most unusual and stunning aspects of Bullard’s archive
is the fastidious logbook in which he identified the names and places in
nearly 1,000 of his photographs, allowing Burns, Greenwood and a team of
Clark University student researchers—with the aid of local community
leaders—to track down many of the subjects’ living descendants all over the

“We felt that it was of incredible importance to bring contemporary voices
of people of color into the conversation,” said Greenwood, who said the
descendants’ oral histories and personal insights into the lives of their
relatives—snippets of which are included throughout the exhibition—offer
intangible stories “that just can’t be found in an archive,” and that
ultimately bring these rare, long-unseen portraits to fuller life.

Benetta Kuffour, the great-great-granddaughter of former slave
<http://observer.com/2017/08/united-states-reparations-slavery-colonialism/> of
Bethany Veney—one of Bullard’s many subjects—said the exhibition of these
photographs was not only emotional for her, but empowering.

“As an African American with descendants that go further than I can
remember or was told, the Bullard Collection has encouraged me to continue
with my own journey,” Kuffour said. “It isn’t often that black Americans
can connect the pictures to the stories that we were told by our elders.”

Burns said that the response from the living descendants of Bullard’s
subjects has not only been overwhelming, but one of the major strengths of
the exhibition.

“These photographs and the connections they’ve inspired reveal how much
bigger this story is than just Worcester—this is ultimately a story of
America,” one that has been waiting 100 years to be told.
*lisaparavisini <http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/>* |
January 2, 2018 at 10:31 pm | Categories: News
<http://repeatingislands.com/category/news/> | URL: https://wp.me/psnTa-zcu

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