The Blackville Gallery, late 1890s



Image Description: 1897 Picture of the Blackville Gallery. Elegant hand colored wood engraving titled,”The Blackville gallery,” from Leslie’s Weekly. Shows scene of a rehearsal of the Blackville Choir. 11 x 16in. $150
Source: Image and Description from Prints Old & Rare, an art seller. The description includes the price of the print.

These are several of the “Blackville Gallery” photographs by Knaffl & Bro. studios of Knoxville, Tennessee, that in appeared in Leslie’s Weekly in the late 1890s.

Per Wikipedia, Leslie’s Weekly, born as Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, was “an American illustrated literary and news magazine founded in 1852 and published until 1922. It was one of several magazines started by publisher and illustrator Frank Leslie… Throughout its decades of existence, the weekly provided illustrations and reports – first with wood engravings and Daguerreotype, later with more advanced forms of photography – of wars from John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry and the Civil War until the Spanish-American War and the First World War.”

In 1897/98, the magazine featured a set of photographs called the “Blackville Gallery” series. The photos show contemporary African Americans, presumably from Knoxville, engaged in various aspects aspects of domestic life, such as attending church or weighing a young child to check its growth. Some might say the photos are caricature-ish, and close to being minstrelsy. But as I look at the pictures, I am struck by the energy and enthusiasm that these amateur models (and these are staged images) bring to the photo shoots. They seem to be having fun with it. It’s as if they are comfortable with poking fun at themselves, and don’t see every attempt at humor at their expense to necessarily be degrading or insulting. Or so it seems to me.

The photographs were produced by Knaffl & Bro. of Knoxville, Tennessee. Wikipedia talks about Joseph Knaffl (October 9, 1861 – March 23, 1938) here.

These images are (or were) being sold as prints at the “Prints Old & Rare,” site. I have included the description of the images at the site, as well as their selling price, to give an idea of the current value of these pictures.


Image Description:1897 Photogravure featured in Leslie’s Weekly titled, “The Blackville Gallery, — No. III.” Caption reads, “The Blackville Cotillon, — “Mr. Johnsing, Turn Me Luse!” Image shows a small jazz ensemble playing for some dancers as a man claps to the rhythm of the music. The sign above his head reads, “Welcum.” Copyright by Knaffl & Bro., Knoxville, Tennessee. 22 x 16 in. $300
Source: Image and Description from Prints Old & Rare, an art seller. The description includes the price of the print.


Image Description: 1898 Photogravure by Knaffl & Bro., Knoxville, Tenn. featured in Leslie’s Weekly titled, “Weighing the Christmas Baby in Blackville.” Authentic portrait of a family at home trying to weigh a baby with their makeshift scale. A woman at left pours some water from an old kettle which was heated in the stovepipe as a child has a bite to eat at center. 22 x 16 in. $300
Source: Image and Description from Prints Old & Rare, an art seller. The description includes the price of the print.


Image Description: 1898 Photogravure featured in Leslie’s Weekly titled, “What Uncle Sam Says, Goes!” Image shows the Blackville tough riders starting for the front with sword, flute and drum ready. Copyright by Knaffl & Bro.,
Knoxville, Tennessee. 22 x 16 in. $300
Source: Image and Description from Prints Old & Rare, an art seller. The description includes the price of the print.


Image Description: 1897 Photogravure featured in Leslie’s Weekly titled, “The Blackville Gallery, — No. II.” Image shows a wedding taking place and caption reads, “A Blackville Wedding,” — “Honey, Does Yo’ Lub Yo’ Man?” Copyright by Knaffl & Bro., Knoxville, Tenn. 22 x 16 in. $300
Source: Image and Description from Prints Old & Rare, an art seller. The description includes the price of the print.


Image Description:1897 Photogravure featured in Leslie’s Weekly titled, “The Blackville Gallery, — No. IV.” Caption under titled reads, “A Blackville Fortune Teller,” — “Lawd, Chile! Yo Gwine to Marry Rich.” Image shows a fortune teller reading the palm of a society lady as the fortune teller’s partner smokes a long pipe next to the fireplace. Copyright by Knaffl & Bro., Knoxville, Tennessee. 22 x 16 in. $300
Source: Image and Description from Prints Old & Rare, an art seller. The description includes the price of the print.

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “The Blackville Gallery, late 1890s

  1. Okay, are you seriously sitting here trying to deny the racist nature of these photographs? More on Knaffl and Brother from the Google Cultural Institute: “In the mid-1890s, capitalizing on the popularity of racist visual humor, the Knoxville, Tennessee, studio Knaffl and Brother published a series of approximately twenty photographs that functioned as a satirical inversion of the traditional genre scene. Intended to deliver a moral or behavioral lesson, genre scenes depict scenes of everyday life, and those typically produced by the firm featured soft-focus cherubic white children engaged in virtuous acts. In their new series, Knaffl and Brother played on white stereotypes of black Americans, populating these scenes of everyday life with ridiculous characters demonstrating not virtue but dishonesty, foolishness, savagery, hyper-sexuality, and laziness. Several scenes, including the one shown here, reveal the photographers’ longing for the return of the Southern plantation. Wrapped in a swaddling cloth, the baby rests in a scale like those used for weighing cotton; perhaps Knaffl and Brother wished to communicate that the discipline of the cotton fields had served to impose beneficial order on people such as those surrounding the newborn. Produced by a Tennessee studio in a racially segregated and violent South, these photographs were also enormously popular in the North. From 1897 to 1898, the nationally distributed, New York–based illustrated magazine Leslie’s Weekly reproduced the photographs under the series title “The Blackville Gallery,” erroneously assuring its readership that they represented “characteristic scenes of negro life in the South.” Although offensive to modern eyes, images such as this were not at all unusual in American popular culture—in both the Northern and Southern states—at the turn of the twentieth century.”

  2. FYI, these images are racist. Here’s more info from the Google Cultural Institute: “In the mid-1890s, capitalizing on the popularity of racist visual humor, the Knoxville, Tennessee, studio Knaffl and Brother published a series of approximately twenty photographs that functioned as a satirical inversion of the traditional genre scene. Intended to deliver a moral or behavioral lesson, genre scenes depict scenes of everyday life, and those typically produced by the firm featured soft-focus cherubic white children engaged in virtuous acts. In their new series, Knaffl and Brother played on white stereotypes of black Americans, populating these scenes of everyday life with ridiculous characters demonstrating not virtue but dishonesty, foolishness, savagery, hyper-sexuality, and laziness. Several scenes, including the one shown here, reveal the photographers’ longing for the return of the Southern plantation. Wrapped in a swaddling cloth, the baby rests in a scale like those used for weighing cotton; perhaps Knaffl and Brother wished to communicate that the discipline of the cotton fields had served to impose beneficial order on people such as those surrounding the newborn. Produced by a Tennessee studio in a racially segregated and violent South, these photographs were also enormously popular in the North. From 1897 to 1898, the nationally distributed, New York–based illustrated magazine Leslie’s Weekly reproduced the photographs under the series title “The Blackville Gallery,” erroneously assuring its readership that they represented “characteristic scenes of negro life in the South.” Although offensive to modern eyes, images such as this were not at all unusual in American popular culture—in both the Northern and Southern states—at the turn of the twentieth century.”

    • I don’t have a problem with people who find these images to be racist and offensive. But my question is, what were the “models” in the pictures getting out of this? Assuming that they had some agency in this, what did they think they were doing?

      Were the models “conscious” that these images were being used to denigrate themselves and their race? Were they willing and self-aware agents of their own racist stereotyping? If that is so, then we need to hold them as much accountable for these images as the photographer, and the businesses that made money off these cards.

      Or we could just assume that these folks were clueless, ignorant victims, who had no idea about what these images were supposed to represent.

      Or it could just be that, these folks – who as best as I can tell, were not professional models, but just “folks” – found this to be playful, even self-deprecating humor. That is, they could be having fun making fun of themselves, and not necessarily bringing racist baggage into their efforts.

      Now don’t get me wrong – any African American of the time was aware, at some level, of the racism of the times, and the way that black folks were mis-represented. But at the same time, black folks can laugh at themselves too – this is a part of humanity.

      I am often reminded that Stepin Fechit, more than once I think appeared in race movies – movies intended for black audiences. His schtick had some kind of cross-racial appeal. Maybe, as they say, you had to be there to get it.

      Question, what do you think about the motivations of these models? Were they clueless and ignorant victims? Were they conscious agents for black stereotyping? Or something else?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s