image prompt: newly enlisted soldier


Worth looking at again:

If you click on this image, a new window will open and take you to its Flickr page. Once you get there (if you care to go) click on “all sizes” above the photo, and you’ll come to a place where you can look at it in very large and detailed format.

I found this photograph (and a lot of other very interesting images) in a book at the (online) Harvard library. If you care to have a look, here’s the info:

Dunbar, Paul Laurence, 1872-1906.
Candle-lightin’ time / by Paul Laurence Dunbar ; illustrated with photographs by the Hampton Institute Camera Club and decorations by Margaret Armstrong.
New York : Dodd, Mead, 1908.
access to page images of entire work

It’s an odd and somewhat disturbing book. I’d have to spend a lot of time with it to come to any conclusions, but for the moment, let’s just look at this photograph.

There are a lot of historical works (fiction and non-fiction) about African-Americans who enlisted in the Civil War, that I’m not very familiar with. I only have vague memories from the film Glory (which I believe was pretty accurate) so for now I’m just trying to imagine myself standing near by as this young man posed.

Was his mother standing there? His whole extended family? I wonder if he lived in the house behind him, what his name was and what kind of work he did before he enlisted.  I don’t know anything about uniforms of the time, but a little research would probably provide a lot of information.

Most of all I wonder what is going through his head.

It would take a lot of research (given how little I know about his place and time) to write about him, but it strikes me as an interesting project.

6 Replies to “image prompt: newly enlisted soldier”

  1. The most striking thing for me was that I did not notice the soldier was African-American until I opened the larger version of the photo. In the thumbnail version, I focussed on the uniform and trying to place the time than on the face.

  2. I’m nodding my head, too. Interesting as always Rosina. Thinking as I do, I wonder about what camera equipment was available at the time, for there to have been a Camera Club (with decorations by Miss such and such – !) and so on. How readily available, to whom, and was this gentleman asked to pose, forced to pose, invited to pose, did he offer to pose? Was a relative or friend in the Camera Club? Did they think a soldier would be a good subject since he could stand still for long periods of time? Unless of course (and this is where the rabbit trails really multiply) they didn’t bother with training to fancy drill standards. Unlikely, but makes me wonder about so many things like that. And the weather? Standing in the hot sun? In overcast weather expecting rain? Muggy or cool? So much wool? And is it really wool?

    Oh yeah, writing prompt all right.

  3. Your comment that it is an odd and somewhat disturbing book prompted me to go and look at it (had to know what made it so), and I have to agree. Were you able to find out anything about Paul Laurence Dunbar? Given the time period I am guessing he was not African-American, which is what makes the book disturbing. Or maybe he was African-American–though how many books were published by African-Americans at that time? And I loved the poem about the mare in which we are told “to make allowances for her sex.” Way to slam females while also mocking the African-American dialect. Two for two Mr. Dunbar! Or am I mistaken to judge the past based on present morals… perhaps. Interesting though. The woodblock prints/illustrations were quite nice, but the photography had a slightly voyeuristic, demeaning quality to it IMHO.

    1. oops, I should have googled before I posted. Apparently he was one of the first African-American poets. Changes my opinion somewhat.

  4. Wow, this is quite powerful. I went and read the poem “When Dey Listed Colored Soldiers.” This is one subject worth researching, for sure.

  5. Dunbar’s name was vaguely familiar. The entry on wikipedia was enlightening. Especially the the comment “Much of Dunbar’s work was authored in conventional English, while some was rendered in African-American dialect. Dunbar remained always suspicious that there was something demeaning about the marketability of dialect poems:” However, just from the dialect poems in At Candle Writing Time I could tell the author had a great talent for meter and rhyme.

    I thought the photograpy in the book technically wonderful but it only emphasized that the photos had been posed for an earlier time (illustrations truly). My favorite is in the final chapter. The one of the gentleman in the chair in front of the fire. His suit first caught my eye because of it’s juxtipositon to the room, then I noticed his demeanor and what held my attention and keeps me wondering are the clippings over the mantle.

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