The lens of a camera can both reflect and refract reality, and it is important to understand that a photograph, like any work of art, can tell us as much about the photographer as the photographed. These photographs of African Americans provide an interesting combination of examples of African American life and the white photographers' perceptions of that life, often at least tinged by stereotypes. While some photographs more obviously represent one or the other, it is an interesting exercise to attempt to determine which photographs were taken in a completely spontaneous manner and which ones were posed or staged by the Cooks.
These photographs of African American life in turn-of-the-century Central Virginia are valuable both as conveyers of unique historical information and as examples of the nascent art of photography. Their preservation by the Valentine Richmond History Center and their digitization by VCU allows everyone from historical researchers to school children to access and learn from this fine and rare resource.
Through the Lens of Time is a joint project between VCU Libraries and the Valentine Richmond History Center.
Images from the Collection at VCU