Episode 42: The Most Photographed American of the 19th Century (w/ Octavia Sharp)


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Full show notes here: [link].

On today’s show we’ll be talking about Frederick Douglass, the most photographed American of the 19th century, and how he used photography against slavery and racism. We’ll give a call to photographer Octavia Sharp, who has been photographing Mausoleums for decades. Tiffen Sinclair will drop by for some knowledge dropping, we’ll have a zine review, the answering machine, and so much more!


Frederick Douglass is celebrated as one of the most important abolitionists in American history. But he was also the most photographed American of the 19th century – having 160 known photographs taken of himself. During the Civil War, he delivered four speeches linking photography to democracy and freedom. He saw photography as a democratic art form, widely available to the masses.

From his first portrait taken in 1841 to his last, a memento mori captured in 1895, Douglass was photographed using nearly every process available at the time .

These 160 images show how Douglass grew as a person, as an abolitionist, and as a public figure. But why was history’s greatest abolitionist so in love with photography? To understand that, we have to understand a bit of Douglass’ own history.

Here are a selection of his portraits:


@octaviasharpphotography on IG

When we first saw Octavia Sharp’s work, it was like something out of a mid century magazine. The colors, the furniture, even the lighting and angles were all of another time. But upon closer inspection, there was something else going on there. These weren’t photographs of living rooms – these were all shot in mausoleums and funeral homes.

Here are some of her photos:


GrainyBlur by Alex Purcell

Alex introduces the zine simply by explaining that photography cannot just be described as a hobby; it holds many variations to him and I am pretty sure we can all agree with that. Alex made this zine with some of his favorite images taken with his pinhole cameras or as he puts it his lo-fi camera gear. As most of us can overlook these types of cameras Alex not only shoots with them but basically puts us all to shame. We really get to see how his creative eye and the limitations of slow shutters blend together in black and white.

Alex @grainyblur on Instagram and/or Twitter.


Thank you to everyone who supports us!

Check out our Patreon for bonus episodes, extended interviews, early drops. Tons of stuff!


Our featured Patron for this episode is

Colin Cameron – @cbc.analogue on IG


Music by Last Regiment of Syncopated Drummers

Vania: IG, Flickr, Zines Eric: IG, Flickr, Zines, ECN-2 Kits Tiffen: IG

All Through a Lens: IG, Website, Patreon, Spotify Playlists

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