With Sight and Sound: Black Photographic and Musical Expression in Rural Alabama, 1900-1930
Nelson, Andrew Lynn
Struna, Nancy L.
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“With Sight and Sound” is a case study of early twentieth-century black photography and music in rural Fayette County, Alabama. At the time, rural black southerners engaged in myriad forms of creative expression and contributed to a number of national aesthetic and cultural movements. Yet, prevailing historical narratives still fail to accurately portray the breadth and diversity of black cultural production in the southern countryside. This dissertation addresses this shortcoming by examining four understudied types of cultural production—photography, pre-jazz brass band music, Dr. Watts singing, and shape-note singing. In doing so, “With Sight and Sound” argues that African Americans in Fayette County used these creative forms to craft local cultures, enhance community life, and critique the dominant ideologies that bolstered the region’s racial oppression. By addressing both photography and music, this project unpacks the intermedial nature of these expressive modes, exploring how pictures and songs were used in concert to reiterate particular themes and convey pointed counterhegemonic and race-conscious messages. This study draws insight from sources that include photographs, songbooks, interviews, and written archival records. Its primary visual archive is a collection of over 800 photographs produced by the family of Mitch and Geneva Shackelford, who were black landholding farmers and commercial portrait photographers living in Fayette County. A range of interdisciplinary methods are used to analyze this project’s myriad sources, including archival research, textual analysis, and ethnography.