Frederick Douglass: The Most Photographed American in 19th Century

Frederick Douglass has been designated as the most photographed American in the 19th century.

Zoe Trodd, a professor and chair of American Literature in the Department of American and Canadian Studies at the University of Nottingham, found this fact out while doing research project for a pair of scholarly projects on the famous abolitionist and working on her book for W.W.Norton. While searching through all of the known photographs of Frederick Douglass, she found that he was the most photographed American of the 19th century, according to her recently published article in the New Haven Register, a daily newspaper published in New Haven, Connecticut.

At least 160 photographs of Douglass have been found since Dr. Trodd started her project.

“General George Armstrong Custer used to be considered the most photographed American of the 1800s with around 155 known photos, following President Abraham Lincoln and the writer Walt Whitman with 130 photos each,” Dr. Trodd said to the New Haven Register.

New Haven Register

By Jim Shelton

Published Thursday, May 03 2012

“Douglass used his image explicitly to provoke social change. “It became one of his most powerful arguments against slavery and for full and equal citizenship,” according to Dr. Trodd. “Douglass is shattering expectations in his photographs. He’s transforming the African American body into an emblem of heroism and pushing the boundaries of possibility for black masculinity.”

Trodd said Douglass orchestrated most of his photos with a clear vision of how he wanted to be presented. He almost never smiled. He didn’t use props. He removed elaborate backdrops and decorative elements.

In part, Douglass was trying to counteract the many images of African Americans in submissive poses, wearing little clothing. He also wanted to negate cartoonish representations of black facial features.

In later years, after he’d become world famous, he used his photographic image to offset paintings and sketches in the media that made his features look more Caucasian.”

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2 Responses to Frederick Douglass: The Most Photographed American in 19th Century

  1. tnwoman1948 June 3, 2012 at 11:50 am #

    Very interesting.

  2. Ismail Khan March 2, 2019 at 8:12 pm #

    Wow. EXCELLENT article and resource. Thank you! We’ll be helpful for many.

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