SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass believed that photography was a visionary tool, offering an important avenue for social justice in a nation clamoring for change in the 1860s. Dr. Laura Wexler, a Yale University professor, will examine Douglass’ thoughts about photography and its continuing relevance today in a lecture at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28, at Wofford College.
Wexler’s presentation, “A More Perfect Picture: Frederick Douglass and the Image of the Nation,” is a Wofford Chapman Lecture in the Humanities. The free lecture will be held in the Jerome Johnson Richardson Theatre in the Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts.
In 1861, Douglass gave a public talk titled “Pictures and Progress,” in which he wrote that “rightly viewed, the whole soul of man is a sort of picture gallery, a grand panorama.” The talk revealed him as one of the earliest and most astute social theorists of photography in the United States, says Wexler, a professor of American studies, film and media studies and women’s gender and sexuality studies at Yale. She is the founder and director of the Photographic Memory Workshop at Yale.
A concurrent exhibition of photographs by renowned American photographers Dorothea Lange and Jack Delano, “Delano & Lange in Spartanburg,” is ongoing in the Richardson Family Art Museum in the Center for the Arts through Oct. 15. The show includes images both photographers took for the Farm Services Administration in the 1940s showing African-American and white tenant farmers in Spartanburg County who were displaced with the construction of Camp Croft. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 1-5 p.m., with extended hours until 9 p.m. Thursday; closed Sunday and Monday.
Wexler is the former co-chair of the Yale Women Faculty Forum. She has received numerous fellowships and awards, including a Henry R. Luce Foundation Grant for a three-year project on “Women, Religion and Globalization.” Since 2011, she has been principle investigator on a project to make a web-based, interactive research system for mapping, searching and visualizing more than 170,000 photographs from 1935-1945 created by the Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information. She holds M.A., M.Phil. and Ph.D. degrees from Columbia University in English and comparative literature.
The Chapman Lecture in the Humanities at Wofford was created in 2015 through a revamping of the Chapman Program in the Humanities. The new program provided for the creation of two Chapman Professorships with those professors identifying and bringing to campus a noted visiting scholar. Dr. Karen H. Goodchild, professor and chair of art and art history, and Dr. Clayton J. Whisnant, associate professor of history, were named to Chapman Professorships.