Family photography in “The Clarion” newspaper (1946-56)

by | Aug 3, 2016 | Photography, Research, Writing | 0 comments

I’ve been increasingly trying to find ways to share parts of my academic research in progress, in part to try to demystify work in photographic archives, in part to keep myself accountable to typing up and beginning to analyze the research I’m doing as I leave each collection, and in part out of a frustration with the very long feedback loop that characterizes academic publishing, where it is usually months and often years before someone reads the work you’ve been doing and has a chance to respond.

So I was particularly grateful for the invitation by my friend and colleague Thy Phu to contribute some of my work-in-progress to The Family Camera Network’s Visual Stories blog, an opportunity I took to start to think about how family photography, as well as studio portraits, was used and framed in the context of an African-Canadian–owned newspaper in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia between 1946 and 1956. As I wrote in the introduction to the post:

Family photographs originate and often circulate in the private sphere of the home, but what kinds of political work do they do when they enter the public space of the newspaper? This question preoccupies me whenever I look at the ways photographs functioned in The Clarion, a monthly newspaper founded in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia in 1946 and edited by Dr. Carrie M. Best. The Clarion aimed to address racial discrimination across the province, announcing in its first issue that it would “tell… readers how much their help is needed in our Community, and from time to time inform you of the progress we are making.” The first African-Canadian–owned publication in Nova Scotia, The Clarion focused on local issues—such as the hiring of a new pastor at the local church “of our own race,” announcements about moves of local residents, high school graduations, marriages, and even the sharing of recipes from readers—but consistently linked them to political events happening nationally and internationally, weaving together everyday Black life in Canada and early-twentieth century struggles for civil rights.

The Family Camera Network is a multi-year project involving artists, curators and academics that aims to create a public archive that will collect family photographs and their stories. This archive will preserve a family history for future generations, as well as provide a resource for teachers, historians and scholars to write new histories of photography, family, and Canada. It invites Canadians who were born outside Canada—or who have family members born outside Canada, no matter how many generations back—to participate by connecting through their website.