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Early African American photos on display at VMFA

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts currently has on display a collection of early photographs from the collection of Dennis O. Williams. Titled “A Powerful Influence,” the exhibit will continue through May 8. Admission is free.

According to information on the VMFA website, photography, which was introduced in 1839, revolutionized how ordinary people saw themselves and others. In the two decades following its invention, photography spread rapidly across the United States and played a crucial role in shaping concepts of identity, family, citizenship, and race.

For African Americans in particular, photographic portraits offered a means of self-representation and empowerment. The abolitionist Frederick Douglass—who was himself the most photographed man of the 19th century—consistently championed the medium for its capacity to affirm the humanity and dignity of its sitters and challenge dehumanizing, racist stereotypes. Other Black Americans, including native Virginian James Presley Ba...

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