Portraits of Dignity, Style, and Racial Uplift

In the late 1970s, the University of Virginia inherited 10,000 glass plate negatives from the Holsinger Studio. Among them were 600 portraits self-commissioned by Black Virginians.

John Edwin Mason sat with those images for years, dreaming up the perfect team to bring them to life. He found his team. Now, through the “Visions of Style and Progress” exhibition, Mason says that the images are transforming the way that viewers think about life for Black Virginians at the turn of the 20th century.

Holsinger Studio Portrait Project #Virginia #History

A new exhibition at the University of Virginia’s Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, showcases portraits that African Americans in Central Virginia commissioned from the Holsinger Studio during the first decades of the twentieth century. The photographs expressed the individuality of the women and men who commissioned them, while silently yet powerfully asserting their claims to rights and equality. Open through June 24, 2023, the exhibition features studio portraits of African American residents of Charlottesville and Albemarle and Nelson counties and is the result of years of research by UVA professors, students, community members.

The portraits of local African Americans tell many stories—stories about family and faith, strength and resilience, beauty and grace. Visitors to the exhibition and related public events will discover a more complete picture of our history.

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