Where We Find Ourselves: The Photographs of Hugh Mangum, 1897–1922

Univ. of North Carolina. Feb. 2019. 184p. ed. by Margaret Sartor & Alex Harris. photos. bibliog. ISBN 9781469648316. $45. PHOTOG
OrangeReviewStarAppearing alongside an exhibition at Duke University, this fascinating work showcases a long-forgotten, itinerant portraitist whose rediscovered archive contains a stereotype-defying, multicultural cast of players. Originating from the tobacco boomtown of Durham, NC, Hugh Mangum (1877–1922) traveled a rail circuit throughout the Carolinas and Virginia, often setting up shop in a tent on the outskirts of town. The expressions he captured, with empathy and wit, draw in viewers like few photographic subjects ever have. Working from glass negatives rescued from an old barn, cocurators Sartor and Harris astutely reproduced the preserved photographs with evidence of damage and neglect still present. Thus we see Mangum's deeply human portraits of these long-dead, ordinary people through flawed, exfoliating emulsions: veils of decay emphasizing a fleeting rapport between Mangum and his sitters. Many plates contain multiple portraits reflecting his diverse clientele, a guileless yet beguiling blend of black and white. Thoughtful essays succinctly address the nearly unanswerable aesthetic and historical questions raised, complemented by dozens of large-scale, captivating photos.
VERDICT Interesting on so many levels, this is Americana at its most compelling, real buried treasure brought to life.
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