One thousand, six hundred- and forty-one-miles, a quick Google Maps search shows the driving distance from Texas to Delaware. It has been established that in 2023 a significant number of the photographs within the Black Portrait Photograph Collection originally came from “the Lone Star State” spanning from cities such as Waco and San Antonio, Texas. These photographs now currently reside in Newark, Delaware. How do we fully come to terms with and unpack the idea that the majority of these photographs are now over one thousand miles away from where they were originally created?
In thinking through this question, I evoke a method applied by Tina Campt who implored her readers in Listening to Images to, “interrogate both the archival encounter, as well as the content of archival collections.” Campt’s theory of listening to images as a methodology entails unmaking the way one would normally engage with a photograph, and then in turn making a new lens of analysis for understanding a photograph with more depth. This making of a new lens of analysis relies on the social and cultural implications tied to a particular photograph and repurposes the photo, keeping in mind how one encounters it in the archive. An application of this method onto the Black Portrait Photograph Collection brings to light varying perspectives. These perspectives consider both the ethical and educational implications of University of Delaware’s procurement of this photographic collection.
An adoption of Campt’s “listening to images” as a methodology for interrogating the Black Portrait Photograph Collection:
- First the unmaking…. unmaking the way one would normally engage with a photograph. As someone engages with this amazing collection looking at photographs of Black people, taken over a hundred years ago there is justifiably excitement in the air. There is an unquestionable educational value in viewing these photos. Photos of Black life from the late nineteenth century to early twentieth century; displaying things like fashion, environment, and family ties. However, upon further examination one can also see photographs with metadata labeled “Texas” under the location section.
- Second the making…. making a new lens of analysis that considers the social and cultural implications tied to a particular photograph. These images aren’t just of Black life in the late nineteenth century to early twentieth century, these images presumably represent Black life in Texas. With this new lens of analysis as one begins to “interrogate both the archival encounter, as well as the content of archival collections,” ethical considerations begin to arise. In particular, ethical considerations about the usability of a number of these photographs by potential descendants of those within the photographs. Descendants that may be regionally based in Texas, while the physical photographs are in Delaware.
Pictures from Texas are now in an institution in Delaware, at least one thousand, six hundred- and forty-one-miles away. Does the procurement of this photographic collection contribute to inherent archival violence? Are we severing potential descendent community connections or has the discoverability increased due to the content being available online? These are questions that arise when applying Tina Campt’s methodology to the Black Portrait Photograph Collection. Educational benefits stringed together with ethical factors for photographs one thousand, six hundred- and forty-one-miles away from their location of origin.
 Tina M. Campt, Listening to Images (Durham and London: Duke University, 2017), 8.