Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Arthur Knight

Committee Member

Alan Braddock

Committee Member

Quincy Mills


This dissertation examines the professional lives of African American studio photographers, recovering the history of an important industry in African American community life during segregation and the long Civil Rights Movement. It builds on previous scholarship of black photography by analyzing photographers’ business and personal records in concert with their images in order to more critically consider the circumstances under which African Americans produced and consumed photographs every day. During the first half of the twentieth century, urban photography studios constituted essential spaces where African Americans considered ideas of commerce, art, labor, leisure, class, gender, and group identity; “Cameras at Work” situates studio photographers in the history of photography, twentieth-century black cultural politics, and the trajectory of African American business history. The rich records of the Scurlock Studio in Washington, DC center and focus my analysis, which I develop via close comparison of the Scurlocks with a number of other professionals including Morgan and Marvin Smith, Austin Hansen, Louise Martin, and Ernest Withers. These men and women acted locally while empowering African Americans to share their own images nationally, thus contributing to the creation of a wholly American visual culture. Throughout, I treat photographs as objects through which camera operators, consumers, and viewers articulated an understanding of themselves as well as the historical moment in which they negotiated the making of the photograph.



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