This extraordinary collection of Dimock’s work has recently been put on line by The Museum of Natural History. Given the obvious quality of the work on line, I’m hoping sometime to have a chance to see the originals. I am initially struck by the brilliant and respectful photographs he took of African Americans in South Carolina at the turn of the century. I am going to take the time to explore all his work in the collection. In this post I am more focused on the portraits, but I expect that if I could see the originals I would be just as focused on the images of people at work or in their surroundings.
I see work with the eye of, among other things, a portrait photographer whose photography involved working collaboratively and respectfully with the people I photograph, to give some sense of who they are. When I see work that honors the humanity of the people in the photographs I respond.
Woman with arm akimbo, Beaufort, South Carolina, 1904
From the Museum website:
The images in the Julian Dimock Collection consist of approximately 3400 photographs on glass taken by Julian A. Dimock (1873-1945) in the United States in the early part of the 20th century from about 1904 to 1911. Dimock, who donated the negatives to the Museum in 1920, traveled the Southern states over many years, both alone and with his father, and scientists and guides, such as anthropologist Alanson Skinner, and during Museum funded trips to Southern locations like The Everglades. Carrying heavy and cumbersome photographic equipment over challenging terrain, Dimock trained his lens on the people and landscape of the South. He widely published images and articles in travel journals and guides such as Outing Magazine, and in books he published with his father, Anthony Weston Dimock, such as Florida Enchantments (1908). Dimock’s work in the South documents African American communities, both former slaves and descendants of slaves, including many moving portraits of individuals and groups working and living in South Carolina and Alabama.
House servant, South Carolina, 1905
He also took hundreds of photographs of the Seminole Indians of Florida and preserved their glorious traditional dress and customs on film. Dimock is likewise well known for his images of Ellis Island and the poignant circumstances of immigrants of Manhattan’s Lower East Side at the turn of the last century. All of the photographs capture cultures and customs with an exceptional compassion and with the beauty and sensitivity Julian Dimock is known for.
Fisherman and boy shoveling oysters, Hilton Head, South Carolina, 1904
The quotes below are from ChickenBones: A Journal for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes as part of a review of Dimock’s book of these images.
A poignant collection of 155 photographs, Camera Man’s Journey takes us to a place at once familiar and foreign. Set in the South early in the twentieth century, these photographs bridge a distance not only of time but also of contrasting attitudes and customs.
The images show African Americans in or around Columbia, Beaufort, and Hilton Head, South Carolina. Some photographs were taken in surroundings where blacks might associate with whites–out of necessity and according to strict custom.
Most of the images, however, are set in “colored sections” or other remote areas of town or country where blacks were obliged to fashion lives apart. Under segregation and disenfranchisement, men, women, and children are portrayed in ordinary occupations and pursuits: a peddler selling his wares, a woman tying a toddler’s shoes, a barber and his young apprentice taking a break outside their shop.
Julian Dimock, whose works appeared often in major travel and nature magazines, took the photographs in 1904-5. So many photographers of the era tended to romanticize or politicize their African-American subjects; Dimock was different. Signs of want and inequity are plain to see in these images, but Dimock portrays his subjects as they really were in all of their dignity, strength, and beauty. — Georgia Book News
Matt Jones, Hilton Head, South Carolina, 1904
When you have time, take the time to explore his archive. You will be well rewarded.