quarter plate ambrotype in thermoplastic case
4 1/4 x 3 1/4 in. (10.8 x 8.26 cm)
Museum Purchase, Gridley W. Tarbell II Fund, 2020.22.4. Artwork in the public domain.
This quarter-plate ambrotype shows a woman of distinction dressed for a seated portrait. The embroidered details of her formal dress are heightened by white paint applied on the outer jacket. With perfectly coiffed hair and modest jewelry, she gazes out, away from the camera while resting her hands on her lap. An unidentified biracial woman, her pose suggests someone taking control of her representation, putting forth an effort to appear confident, sharply dressed, and sophisticated, a form of self-assertion made possible by the emergence of photography. Black women had the ability to present themselves to the world in a way that reflected their own ideas of their personhood. This modest-sized ambrotype allowed this woman to capture and preserve her sense of self for generations, a testament to the role photography played in recording more realistic likenesses of Black women during the antebellum period.