Archival Portraiture: The Reclamation of the Black American Image

"[Two African American boys, full-length portrait facing front]", is the first in a series of works entitled: Archival Portraiture: The Reclamation of the Black American Image. Sourcing from the earliest know photographic images of African American people in the United States, these paintings seek to reclaim the black image from the archives of American history. By creating full scale oil paintings of unknown, unnamed and often enslaved African Americans in the manner of a presidential portrait, these archival images and the people that inhabit them take on a new life, one of long deserved dignity, honor and respect.


In this work I am exploring the Black American image through the lens of the first recorded photographs of Black people in the United States. Drawing upon old daguerreotype, tin type and early emulsion archival photos dating as far back as 1840, I am reclaiming the images, often of slaves, laborers, craftsman and children, and rendering them in full scale oil paintings, as a way to impart the honoring and recognition that these Black people may have never received in their own time. The images of Black Americans from the mid 1800s, are rare. They are often set in photographic studios, with fake backdrops of European parlors or idyllic nature scenes. This staging, juxtaposed with the reality of the Black American experience per-emacipation, creates the tension from which I create the Oil Paintings. The beautiful, often scared, weary, and work worn faces of these early Black American are seen for the first time, and memorialized for all time.