Posted by: emmadamato | October 20, 2010

birth of a nation

While reading Picturing Empire I kept thinking of the transition to “photographing race” to filming it. In early American film black face was used to create blackness. It seems like the animation of the photograph allowed the illusion of race to continue even as the truth of anthropological photography was replaced with a less arguable fiction. Although people believed that “photography could ‘rigidly preserve’ the pathology of the human body ensured that photography was taken up by those interested in the classification and identification of different physical and mental conditions”, what were the assumed intentions of film makers? (148) Birth of a Nation instantly came to mind. A silent film made in 1915 that depicted the South during the reconstruction. With African American’s running around raping young white women and committing other crimes against society. The Ku Klux Klan is shown as an admirable army coming to the rescue. After the film premiered there were riots and white mobs harassing black people all over the country- these riots resulted in a few deaths but the strength this film lent to the Klan resulted in countless more. It also promoted the Ku Klux Klan and was used by the group as a recruiting tool until the 70s. But the “black” actors in the film are white men in black face. A falsity becomes doctrine with the application of trust by an audience. I guess I’m just amazed that there was less questioning of the film media as compared to the photograph.

I also found these two photographs and thought they were interesting of white families photographed with their black slaves as a visual counterpoint to the photograph image 58 on page 155


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