My finding aid for the Black Portrait Photograph Collection was created with the intent of not only providing information for the location of the collection, but also to provide some information without trying to overpower the photographs within the collection. The finding aid includes the main information (creator, title, collection number, date, physical description, language, etc.) as well as Library of Congress subject headings. The subject headings that are included were chosen because of each object’s material or photograph type such as tintypes or crayon enlargements because these types of photographs are present within the collection.
There is not a specific biographical or historical section of the finding aid due to so much information being unknown. Including this particular section felt as though too many assumptions would be given and conclusions from a potentially false narrative would be drawn from trying to provide this section. However, if more information is provided in the future this finding aid can be updated to include this section. Too often photographs, especially those of Black sitters are provided an assumed history and narrative of what the viewer is seeing, but another viewer might see something completely different. Also, by providing an assumed history or narrative it could do more harm than help for a researcher and stifle the multifaceted ways of how to view the photographs within the collection. Since all of the sitters in the Black Portrait Photograph Collection are unidentified people and there is currently no information about them, their images and what can be deducted from them such as clothing, background, and vague postures and props should tell us the history and narratives about the sitters.
The abstract of the finding aid is short and specific because so little is known about the photographs. However, it also allows a researcher to have enough information to decide if the collection is of interest for them at that all or at the particular moment. By providing a more straight to the point abstract it allows the researcher to obtain the necessary information about the collection without having to become too invested in the collection prior to viewing it.
The contents section of the finding aid provides a little more detail about the overall collection. This section gives information on when the objects were purchased and allows space for it to be easily updated as the collection grows. It tells the researcher that the sitters are currently unidentified allowing an invitation for a potential researcher or someone else to identify any of the sixteen individuals that are portrayed in the photographs. Although it appears that the portraits were most likely taken in a photography studio based on evidence in the images such as the background and body poses, that information is also unknown and intentionally acknowledged in order to minimize speculation. The suggestions of the photographs being taken in a studio can be drawn with the sitter clothing and assumed class status. The styles of clothing worn in the photographs such as formal dresses and suits would have been popular among middle-class Black people from the mid-nineteenth through the early twentieth centuries; however, there are also no dates on the images to confirm that theory.
A finding aid should be organized, as detailed as possible, and include the metadata for a given collection. Based on the many finding aids researched in preparation for this collection there were many aspects that did and did not fit well for this particular collection at the moment. A researcher or user should be able to quickly and easily find the information since to be considerate of their time. But should also provide an explanation for why particular information is or is not included even if the information is unknown at the moment to help provide more context and understanding for the collection.
Danielle Bing, The Baltimore Collection: The Black Portrait Photography Collection, Finding Aid, May 2021.