In the winter of 1899, Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864–1952) was commissioned to photograph the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Hampton, Virginia, a school for young African American and Native American men and women founded shortly after the end of the Civil War. Johnston’s mesmerizing depictions of Hampton’s students learning ancient history, composing music, or measuring the combined draft of horses embody a sense of promise and possibility far from the cruelties and injustices of the post-Reconstruction South. Acclaimed upon its debut at the American Negro Exhibit at the 1900 Paris Exposition, Johnston’s work fell into obscurity until the impresario and philanthropist Lincoln Kirstein stumbled across the album in a Washington, D.C., bookstore when he was stationed nearby during World War II. A selection from The Hampton Album was shown at The Museum of Modern Art in 1966, marking the beginning of its recognition as a landmark in the history of photography as well as a touchstone for the divergent visions of African American progress espoused by W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington (himself a Hampton alumnus).
This deluxe edition adheres to the generous scale and format of the original album, which is published here in its entirety for the first time. Along with a contextualizing essay by curator Sarah Hermanson Meister, it includes a reflection on the contemporary resonances of Johnston’s work from artist LaToya Ruby Frazier. 312 pp; 173 illus.