This spring, you can travel through time at the Museum of Art – DeLand, where the haunting portraits of photographer Hugh Mangum will take you more than 100 years into the past. You’ll meet people from another era — and another America.
“Where We Find Ourselves: The Photographs of Hugh Mangum, 1897-1922,” is on view through Sunday, June 12, in the museum’s Downtown Galleries, at 100 N. Woodland Blvd. in DeLand. Admission is free for museum members, Volusia County and Stetson University students, and children age 12 and younger; admission costs $5 for nonmembers.
Mangum was a traveling, self-taught photographer from Durham, North Carolina. From 1897 to 1922, he set up temporary studios in tents and storefronts across North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, and offered affordable portraits to everyone who passed by.
Mangum photographed men, women and children from every level of society: the rich and poor, young and old, and more remarkably for the times, Black and white. Though the South of his era was marked by segregation and inequality, Mangum’s images reveal the open-door policy of his studio.
He typically used a “Penny Picture” camera that photographed multiple exposures in rows and columns, creating a gridlike pattern of individual images on a single glass plate. The process also created a visual display of the wide range of people who passed through his studio on any given day.
Many of Mangum’s photos are multiple exposures, one on top of another. The effect is a haunting record of the deeply entangled interracial social life of the Jim Crow South.
One of the hallmarks of Mangum’s work was his ability to put people at ease. He took several photos of each of his subjects. Initially, most of them look stiff and uncomfortable. With every exposure, however, they visibly relax. They pose for the camera, hold props and smile broadly. Even today, the progressive shift from formal to informal looks fresh and inspired.
Mangum was born in 1877 and died in the influenza epidemic of 1922 at the age of 44. After his death, more than 900 of his glass-plate negatives were stored in a tobacco pack house in Durham, where he had his first darkroom.
Over time, many of the glass plates were damaged; in 1986, they were moved to Duke University, where preservationists created digital scans of each one.
While the photos themselves were black and white, the scans are full color, and the prints are oversized. The result is surprisingly modern; the damage adds depth, dimension, and a sense of magic to the photos. The scale of the images adds immediacy and presence. It’s easy to imagine the figures in each photo as living, breathing people in our own time.
Margaret Sartor, who curated the exhibit, says the damage has become an integral part of the images.
“These plates seem to embody the very texture of life, pointing directly to the ways in which experience is impacted by passing history,” Sartor said. “In the scratches, cracks, fingerprints, and delicate color shifts that surround and sometimes cover the sitters’ faces, we are looking at portraits of individuals through the unmistakable portal of time.”
The museum is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, and 1-4 p.m. Sundays.
A gallery talk by Tariq Gibran and Pam Coffman is slated for 5:30 p.m. Friday, May 27, at the museum’s Downtown Galleries, 100 N. Woodland Blvd. Gibran, curator of art, will discuss the historical aspects and development of photography during Mangum’s career. Coffman, curator of education, will share insights on the social, political and racial issues of the time.
Admission to the talk is free for museum members and costs $5 for nonmembers. Seating is limited, and registration is required. To RSVP, call 386-734-4371 by Wednesday, May 25.