Frederick Douglass photos smashed stereotypes. Could Elizabeth Warren selfies do the same?Breaking News
tags: photography, Elizabeth Warren, 2020 Election, Frederick Douglas
They look nothing alike.
Frederick Douglass — a black man campaigning for the abolition of slavery in the 1840s — appears alone in almost every photograph, staring down the camera in isolated, thoughtful splendor. Elizabeth Warren — a white woman campaigning for the presidency in 2019 — features today in countless iPhone photos and Instagram feeds, her arm around voter after voter, always bearing the same wide grin.
The two are separated by race, gender and more than 100 years of history that forged an America that would probably be unrecognizable to Douglass. Still, experts say, their use of photography collapses the distance: Douglass sat for scores of pictures to normalize the idea of black excellence and equality, and Warren’s thousands of selfies with supporters could do the same for a female president.
“It is cognitively harder for people to think about women in the role of political leader because we haven’t seen a lot of women in political leadership,” said Nichole Bauer, a professor of political communication at Louisiana State University. “With this selfie factory, she’s normalizing that image — in the same vein that Douglass used photography.”
Douglass, renowned statesman, abolitionist, orator and writer, was the most-photographed American of the 19th century, according to historians. Over the course of his career, he sat for more than 160 separate pictures, later reproduced millions of times and disseminated across the United States.
As Yale professor David Blight writes in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom,” Douglass used the photos — in which he appeared elegantly dressed, his hair perfectly arranged — as “a means of spreading influence.” Douglass created “for a wide audience successive images of the intelligent, dignified black man,” Blight argues, in a larger bid to convince the country that black inferiority was a racist myth.
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