Born following the Civil War, the segregationist system was gradually anchored in American law, notably through the 1896 decision of the Supreme Court of Plessy c. Ferguson. It is based on a doctrine called "Separate but equal". From slaves, black Americans had become second-class citizens, who could not go to the same schools as white Americans, take the bus with them, or drink from the same fountain. They were buried in separate cemeteries, and could not swear on the same Bible. They were also excluded from restaurants, libraries, and public gardens. The same rule also applied in many photography studios.
The tintype presented here is particularly remarkable because it is a 21.4 x 16 cm format, which is very rare. This indicates that there was a desire for high quality and technical mastery in the making of this particular image. The image is exposed directly on the metal plate. The process is however a "poor man's process". The tintype is carried out on the spot in fair tents, and installation in a real studio with a photographer is certainly not allowed. The pose is concentrated, proud and shy all at once. It is as if the characters, certain of their boldness, wondered if they had the right to do it. The importance of the image is reinforced by color enhancements made by hand to the stripes on the young girls' skirts.
Tintype 21.4 x 16 cm Acquisition Jamaica Plain, USA - 2015 full whole plate tintype
Olivier Guyaux Collection - Tinygallery Brussels
*The Slave Trade: Essays on Global History