William Edward Burghardt “W. E. B.” Du Bois (1868-1963) was an American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author and editor. Born in Massachussetts, Du Bois was the first African American to earn a doctorate at Harvard University and wrote the first scientific treatise in the field of sociology. He was professor of history, sociology and economics at Atlanta University. Du Bois co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored (NAACP) in 1909, and rose to national prominence in his opposition to racism and discrimination. He viewed the struggle of people of color against oppression and colonialism as a shared global struggle, was a proponent of Pan-Africanism, a lifelong socialist sympathizer, and a peace activist.
He is perhaps best known for his collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk (1903) but other seminal texts include Black Reconstruction in America (1935), three autobiographies, and, as editor of NAACP’s journal The Crisis, numerous essays. Du Bois died in Accra, Ghana at the age of 95, having become a citizen of the country in a symbolic gesture against the United States, which refused to renew his passport.
At the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle, W.E.B. Du Bois, the leading black intellectual and civil rights activist, and Thomas J. Calloway strategically employed 363 photographs in the American Negro Exhibit. Retrospectively, Du Bois’ remarkable collection of photographs can be read as the origins of a visual construction of a new African-American identity: a visionary archive of an emergent black subjectivity.
As such, it provided an extraordinary insight into the conditions of black culture at the end of the nineteenth century, only thirty-five years after the abolition of slavery. Ranging in genre from ethnographic mug shot aesthetic to bourgeois theatrical portrait, Du Bois’ intention was to produce a comprehensive, alternative view of the black subject, ‘an honest straightforward exhibit of a small nation of people, picturing their life and development without apology or gloss, and above all made by themselves.’
Marking the 50th anniversary of the death of W.E.B. Du Bois, GLYPHS presents a slideshow projection of The Paris Albums 1900, a series of two hundred portraits originally compiled by Du Bois for the volume Types of American Negroes, Georgia, U.S.A. With a focus on the intersection of race, gender and performativity, Du Bois’ quintessential counter-archive is positioned in dialogue with those created by the contemporary artists in GLYPHS.