John B. Wortham (American, 1838-1889)
4 1/4 x 6 1/2 in. (10.8 x 16.51 cm)
Museum Purchase, Gridley W. Tarbell II Fund, 2020.22.2-3. Artwork in the public domain.
In these two portraits, taken a little after the Civil War, an older Black woman holds a white infant while her other charges stand close by. Posed against a painted backdrop, the photograph gives the illusion of domesticity and order. The photographs document the use of Black women as props or background devices. The photographs were not taken for the benefit of the Black servant or given to her family. Their individuality extends only so far as they shed light on the childhood of their charge. We are left to wonder what life the Black woman had, who her loved ones were, and whether the image might have circulated without her knowledge.