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 Image: Peter Jackson. London Stereoscopic Company, 1889 Courtesy © Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

 Image: Peter Jackson. London Stereoscopic Company, 1889 Courtesy © Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

Black Chronicles II explores the presence of black subjects in Victorian Britain through the prism of late 19th century studio portraiture.

The Cooper Gallery installation presents the U.S. premiere of this critically acclaimed exhibition, first shown at Rivington Place, London in 2014.  The second in a series of exhibitions dedicated to excavating archives, Black Chronicles II showcases Autograph ABP’s commitment to continuous critical enquiry into archive images which have been overlooked, under-researched or simply not recognised as significant previously, yet are highly relevant to black representational politics and cultural history today.

The exhibition presents more than 100 photographs, a majority of which have only recently been unearthed as part of Autograph ABP’s on-going archive research program The Missing Chapter. Presented alongside works from the Hulton Archive’s London Stereoscopic Company (LSC) collection is a selection of rare albumen prints, cabinet cards and cartes-de-visite that became popular collectibles in the late 19th century. These portraits depict dignitaries, servicemen, missionaries, visiting performers, known personalities and many as yet unidentified sitters– their collective presence bearing direct witness to Britain’s colonial and imperial history, and the expansion of the British Empire.

A highlight of the exhibition is a newly rediscovered series of exquisitely rendered photographic portraits from the Hulton Archive’s LSC collection, featuring more than 30 portraits of The African Choir, which toured Britain between 1891 and 1893. Originally photographed on glass plate negatives, these extraordinary images lay buried deep within the archives for decades, and are presented here for the first time in 125 years.

As a curated body of work, these images present new knowledge and offer different ways of seeing culturally diverse sitters in Victorian portraiture, contributing to an on-going process of redressing persistent ‘absence’ in the historical record. For the first time, a comprehensive body of photographs primarily taken in commercial studios across Britain in the latter half of the 19th century is brought together - developed through pioneering curatorial research in the holdings of several archives and privately owned collections.

The exhibition’s 19th century photographs are presented in dialogue with Effnik, a contemporary artwork by Yinka Shonibare MBE commissioned by Autograph ABP in 1996.  Dedicated to the memory of Professor Stuart Hall (1932-2014), Autograph ABP’s former chairman and ground-breaking cultural theorist, and features text and audio excerpts from Hall’s evocative 2008 keynote speech on archives and cultural memory.  

Black Chronicles II’ documents a distant era from a foreign country, but it is strikingly relevant to modern Americans, especially those who have an historical affinity and a familial connection with the United Kingdom,' says Vera Grant, Executive Director of the Cooper Gallery. “Autograph ABP unearthed the catalogue of a community previously unseen yet clearly vibrant, proud, drawn from diverse experiences, and as alive with spirit as anyone today. We are thrilled to be the first U.S. stop for this exceptional collection.'

Autograph ABP Curator and Head of Archive Renée Mussai, who co-curated Black Chronicles II with Director Mark Sealy, says this collection discredits the notion that black faces in Victorian Britain were absent from the historical and visual record.

She says the exhibition’s premise is to 'open up critical enquiry into the archive and continue our mission of writing black photographic history. At the heart of the exhibition is the desire to resurrect black figures from oblivion and re-introduce them into contemporary consciousness.'

'Black Chronicles II is a stunning exhibition and the fact that the majority of the negatives unearthed from within the Hulton Archive have lain undisturbed, bound in brown paper and string for over 120 years, is truly extraordinary,' said Matthew Butson, Vice President of the Hulton Archive.