The exhibition brings together the photographs of the nineteenth-century photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston (American, 1864-1952) and a commissioned work by contemporary African American photographer Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953), when in 1996 the latter was invited to revisit the Johnston photographs and life at Hampton University.
The exhibition includes the Hampton Album of 1900—a collection of vintage photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnston (American, 1864-1952)—and period images of African Americans and Native Americans. Johnston was commissioned to provide a record of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University) in Hampton, Virginia, to be displayed in the 1900 Paris Exposition. Johnston’s gaze is broad enough to encompass initial contacts between Anglos, African Americans, and Native Americans, the institution of slavery, the era of Jim Crow, the civil rights conflicts of the twentieth century, and the land claim disputes of the present.
These images exist alongside Weems’ exploration of historic and contemporary intersections of race, education, and the democratic ideal. In the fabric installation, Weems knits her concerns about individual identity, class, assimilation, education, and the legacy of slavery. Transferring digitized images of historic moments, sites and individuals onto semitransparent muslin banners and stretched canvas, Weems’ work questions moral and ethical boundaries and surfaces the political and socioeconomic realities of twentieth-century America. She also employs audio as an evocative counterpoint to the imagery