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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2000
This is a small book loaded with powerful images. Daguerreotypes and ambrotypes of African-Americans from the author's collection and the J. Paul Getty collection are beautifully reproduced. The author, however, should have let these images stand on their own. The majority of photographs taken before 1860 have, due to the passage of time and lack of documentation, become anonymous, with little information about their subjects preserved. It is tempting for viewers (and especially collectors) to speculate on the identity and life of the sitter. While this makes for lively text, there is no guarantee that what the author puts forth is any closer to the reality than what the reader sees in the image. A fireman's helmet makes him a fireman, but it doesn't necessarily make him a Philadelphia fireman. Fine clothes do not always make the sitter well-to-do. Collectors should resist the temptation to attribute more to an image than meets the eye. Ultimately, they should let the images, magnificent in their own right, speak for themselves. Look at these images and fall into your own vision of history's bravest souls.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2000
These pictures are taken from the author's collection of early photographs of black Americans, reputed on the flap copy to be the largest such in existence. If you enjoy looking at old photos, these richly repay the viewing. The plantation scenes are interesting--many such grand houses still survive, so it is intriguing to see them peopled with their original inhabitants. The portraits are also compelling, as we try to read the eyes of the subject across the void of years. The author does climb on rainbows a bit, trying to get into these people's minds. And he is inexplicably wrong about the first photo in the book--the black gardener is not in the photo by mistake, but obviously by the family's choice, since the long exposure required by the primitive cameras obliged the subjects to be still for an appreciable length of time. Plus, he is clearly posed in a well-lit spot. Quibbles aside, this is a very interesting collection of antebellum photos of black Americans, slave and free. Photography buffs will find it rewarding.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 4, 2001
I picked this book up at the library. As I am also a collector of old photographs, I was intrigued. The book does contain a wonderful collection; it's worth looking at.
But as everyone has observed, I too found the commentary a source of concern and irritation. Much of it is total fabrication. That is definately a pair of rosary bead around the woman's neck on page 46. To claim otherwise is a deliberate intention to misdirect. The woman was far from thinking of her roots. She just wanted to leave a picture for her family to enjoy and remember her by.
Mr. Wilson is an author I will avoid from now on.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2001
Who could not be intrigued with the faces illustrating this book. This is a wonderful collection of early photography. As one looks into the eyes of each subject, one longs to look into their mind and soul. "What is the true story behind this picture?"
To answer that question, don't read the commentary. It is clear Jackie Wilson had an "adgenda" and he went way out to proclaim his propoganda. It's a shame, his words ruined a otherwise poignant collection.
Mr. Wilson relates a story of women abolitionists to discribe the photograph on page 27 stating this is simply a picture of a black and white woman ignoring the presence of the child. Blinded by his own prejudices, he fails to see the striking resemblence between all three around the eyes and the mouth. He brushes away the fact that the little girl leans toward the older woman, yet holds hands with both. He ignores the leaning in of the older woman toward the child. I'm no expert, but clearly I see a Mother with her adult Daughter and Granddaughter.
On page 46 Mr. Wilson discribes the beads worn by the "Seated Black Woman" as "rarely seen African trade beads, a form of currency in Africa, which may well symbolize her awareness of her ancestral links." Huh? The woman is clearly wearing Rosary Beads. A form of prayer used by Roman Catholics. Obviously, the woman wants to share her awareness of her Faith. I'm surprised an editor let that pass.
No one will ever know the true stories behind these photographs, but interpretations that bear no resemblance to the truth make this a book which has a questionable crediblility.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2001
I give this book 4 stars because the photographs are FANTASTIC!! But, I have to agree, Mr. Wilson does take extreme liberty with some of his comments. Don't get me wrong, there are indeed some history lessons to be had here, but indeed on page 27 those women are related. Where he got the idea that these women were merely "abolitionists" puzzles me. I think perhaps he was trying to teach a history lesson here, and he needed a picture to try and fit that lesson, he just used the wrong picture to make his point. I can't imagine someone having such a fabulous picture and not understand the true meaning of it. So, with that said please enjoy the pictures and the history lesson that he's trying to teach. Just don't try and put the two together.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 2002
These photographs are gorgeous. Many of the readers have probably never seen early photos of free and even prosperous proud ante-bellum black people. I would give this book five stars were it not for the commentary. Jackie Napoleon Wilson tries so hard to interpret the photos that he makes ridiculous assumptions. There is no way to know what was going on in these people's heads. As other reviewers have pointed out, becuase of the daugeretype's long exposure time the man in the photo on page 3 didn't just get caught in the scene he must have been posed. When Wilson says the woman and daughter on page 13 didn't have a close attachment he's speaking nonsense. How on earth can you tell that? Despite the commentary this book is a worthy addition to the bookshelf of anyone who is interested in history.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2002
The photographs are great!! I just wish that the author had let them speak for themselves, or if he felt that he must say something, tell us what he felt when looking at the photos. I don't think that there is a person over the age of 8 that doesn't know about the difficult times that African American faced and still face, but to add them as facts to the photographs is just a bit much. God I want just one book that has photographs of us that talk about our pride and strength seen in our eyes by the len.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 28, 2001
Normally a picture is worth a thousand words, not so in Wilson's case. This book would have been better left without text. Still, as a picture book, as a real hidden witness to a past that does not show much in the way of photo documentation, the book has worth. The daguerreotypes and rare photos give a glimpse to the lives of African-Americans before abolition. If the reader will become a looker only and search the photos for the truth, then this book will be a valuable source of enlightenment and understanding.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 25, 2004
This book has photographs to treasure. To see black people at this period of history recorded in photographs is a precious thing. However, I must agree with the consensus that the text is worthless, which is why I didn't give the book five stars. I was not interested in the author's guesses about these people and many times he was actually obnoxious in his anxiety to make sure the reader saw the photographs with his spin on them.
Particularly moving, besides the portrait on the front of the woman and child were the memorial photograph of the dead baby, and the couple of photos of slaves lined up in front a plantation. It was interesting to see, although it was not the common experience that there were already so many black middle-class pre-slavery, or at least, so many blacks managed to dress up for even a one-time portrait. I have some older photos in my family and I know from that that people put their best foot forward and rented clothes that were better than their usual ones and so forth for portraits. Also, even in the 19th century it was possible to retouch photos and remove things that they did not want to be seen.
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on September 22, 2010
This book is breath taking. The stories will grab your heart and the pictures are priceless. This book is sold for hundreds of dollars on the market. I can see why, because the pictures and background information is historical and penatrating on every level. I loved this book.
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