The subjects of my photographs are objects, documents, photographs, and books stored in cases and file cabinets as treasured historical artifacts. The outcome of this effort is to transform the usually small and often fragile remnants of the struggle for freedom and equality into images larger in scale than the original subjects. The content of the collections include vernacular documents such as a payment receipt for a bank loan, long held objects of special importance in the history of Eatonville, and various official materials that recall the transformations of a community over time.
These photographs are part of a larger body of work that has occupied my attention for several years. The Manifest portfolio has been concerned with objects in public collections that represent slavery, abolition, spiritualism, the Second Great Awakening, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Albion Tourgee, the Niagara Movement, opening of the western territories, the U.S. Civil War, and the Civil Rights Era to name a few of the narratives that inspired these photographs. The images in the Eatonville portion of the Manifest portfolio are the result of my work with various institutions; Orlando History Center, Department of College Archives and Special Collections Olin Library at Rollins College, Smathers Library Special Collections at the University of Florida Gainesville, and Eatonville Historic Preservation.
I am increasingly interested in the residual power of the material remains of the past. The ability of objects to transcend lives, centuries, and millennia, offers a remarkable mechanism for folding time, bringing the past and the present into a shared space that is uniquely suited to artistic exploration. While the artifacts are remarkable as visual evidence of lives and events, I also intend the viewer to consider this informal catalog as a survey of the impulse and motivation to preserve history and memory.
The various projects that have occupied my attention during the past two decades are, in retrospect, part of a singular effort to seek out the ghosts and resonant memories expressed in various aspects of the material world. I am drawn to the stories “dwelling within” a spoon, a cowbell, a book, a photograph, or a partially burned document. All are potential agents of vision
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Schools for the Colored
In W.E.B. DuBois' "The Souls of Black Folk" he describes an early school experience, "... I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil"
"Schools for the Colored" is an extension of the ideas that formed the project "Small Towns, Black Lives," in that; it is a continuation of my journey through the African American landscape. I began making photographs of historically African American school buildings during the very first weeks of the "Small Towns, Black Lives" project more than twenty years ago. In "Schools for the Colored" I began to pay attention to the many structures and sites (also making photographs of places where segregated schools once stood) that operated as segregated schools.
These photographs depict the buildings and landscapes that were associated with the system of racially segregated schools established at the southern boundaries of the northern United States. This area, sometimes referred to as “Up-South,” encompasses the northern “free” states that bordered the slave states. "Schools for the Colored" is the representation the duality of racial distinction within American culture. The “veil” (the digital imaging technique of obscuring the landscape surrounding the schools) is a representation of DuBois’ concept, informing the visual narrative in these photographs. Some of the images depict sites where the original structure is no longer present. As a placeholder, I have inserted silhouettes of the original building or what I imagine of the appearance of the original building. The architecture and geography of America’s educational Apartied, in the form of a system of “colored schools” is the central concern of this project, within the landscape of southern New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois
Wendel A. White was born in Newark, New Jersey and grew up in New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. He was awarded a BFA in photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York and an MFA in photography from the University of Texas at Austin. White taught photography at the School of Visual Arts, NY; The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, NY; the International Center for Photography, NY; Rochester Institute of Technology; and is currently Distinguished Professor of Art at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
He has received various awards and fellowships including a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in Photography, two artist fellowships from the New Jersey State Council for the Arts, a photography grant from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, and a New Works Photography Fellowship from En Foco Inc. His work is represented in museum and corporate collections including: En Foco, New York, NY; Rochester Institute of Technology, NY; the Museum of Fine Art, Houston, TX; Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, IL; Haverford College, PA; Johnson and Johnson, New Brunswick, NJ; Chase Manhattan Bank; the Paul R. Jones Collection of African American Art at University of Delaware; Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University, WI; and the NYPL Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, NY. In January 2003 the Noyes Museum of Art mounted a retrospective exhibition of the "Small Towns, Black Lives" project, including 13 years of images and an exhibition catalogue of the same title.
White has served on the board of directors for the Society for Photographic Education, the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, and the New Jersey Black Culture and Heritage Foundation. He has also served on the Kodak Educational Advisory Council and the advisory board of NJ Save Outdoor Sculpture.
His current projects include, "Schools for the Colored", "Manifest", and "Seven Steps to Freedom" (a public art commission). His work is included in various publications: "Envisioning Emancipation" and "Posing Beauty" by Deborah Willis, Afterimage, exposure magazine, Neuva Luz, and Photo Review, among many others. Images from "Village of Peace: An African American Community in Israel" were published in Transition magazine (Vol. 97), by the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University.
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