Picturing Frederick Douglass

An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century's Most Photographed American

Celeste-Marie Bernier (Author), John Stauffer (Author), Zoe Trodd (Author), Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Epilogue by, Harvard University)

With an Afterword by Kenneth B. Morris

Logo markA Liveright book

Overview | Formats

A landmark and collectible volume—beautifully produced in duotone—that canonizes Frederick Douglass through historic photography.

Commemorating the bicentennial of Frederick Douglass’s birthday and featuring images discovered since its original publication in 2015, this “tour de force” (Library Journal, starred review) reintroduced Frederick Douglass to a twenty-first-century audience. From these pages—which include over 160 photographs of Douglass, as well as his previously unpublished writings and speeches on visual aesthetics—we learn that neither Custer nor Twain, nor even Abraham Lincoln, was the most photographed American of the nineteenth century. Indeed, it was Frederick Douglass, the ex-slave-turned-abolitionist, eloquent orator, and seminal writer, who is canonized here as a leading pioneer in photography and a prescient theorist who believed in the explosive social power of what was then just an emerging art form.


  • Contributions from Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Kenneth B. Morris, Jr. (a direct Douglass descendent)
  • 160 separate photographs of Douglass—many of which have never been publicly seen and were long lost to history
  • A collection of contemporaneous artwork that shows how powerful Douglass’s photographic legacy remains today, over a century after his death
  • All Douglass’s previously unpublished writings and speeches on visual aesthetics

Book Details

  • Paperback, With Flaps
  • February 2018
  • ISBN 978-1-63149-429-1
  • 9.1 × 12 in / 320 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Other Formats

  1. Book CoverPicturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century's Most Photographed American


Endorsements & Reviews

“These images don’t change your mind; they smash through some of the warped lenses through which we’ve been taught to see.” — David Brooks, New York Times

“Beautifully crafted and contextualized.... the extant photographs illuminate American history and memory.” — The Washington Post

“A terrific new book.” — The New Yorker

“Striking…. The most exciting images in the book are those that show us how these 19th-century portraits became, over the decades that follow, a part of the symbolic surround of the modern American landscape…. The words in this highly visual book are perhaps even more powerful than the images…. Pictures conveyed a precision akin to religious truth, an affective prerequisite for social movements.” — Matthew Pratt Guterl, The New Republic

“Nothing less than a masterpiece in the fields of biography, African-American history, and not least of all the neglected area of iconography…A riveting instant classic and a pure pleasure to behold.” — Harold Holzer, winner of the Lincoln Prize and author of Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion

Picturing Frederick Douglass marries all of my present interests: legacies of slavery; beautiful images of a beautiful man; and the first theory of photography as a democratic medium capable of social change. Stunningly original and elegantly written and designed, it will inspire anyone interested in the links between the visual and the verbal.” — Sally Mann, author of Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs

“Douglass emerges here out of photographic technology's earliest years, with majestic beauty, and through the power of his own self-creations. The book is the result of intrepid research and brilliant analysis; it charts Douglass's life visually, allowing him to look back at us wryly, wistfully, wrathfully.” — David W. Blight, Yale University, and author of Frederick Douglass: A Life

“In Picturing Frederick Douglass, Stauffer, Trodd, and Bernier offer exhilarating scholarship and our idea of Douglass and our sense of photography in nineteenth-century America are deepened. This is brilliant and very moving work.” — Darryl Pinckney, author of High Cotton, Out There and Black Balled: The Black Vote and U.S. Democracy

Picturing Frederick Douglass marks a significant turn in the long history of Douglass’s reception. Both as a subject for photography and as a critical theorist who reflected on the democratic, humane, and truth-telling powers of the medium, Douglass emerges in this beautiful volume in a completely new light.” — W. J. T. Mitchell, author of Seeing Through Race

Picturing Frederick Douglass is to be shared, studied, read and repeated every six months, not only in the classroom but in our living rooms…Beautifully researched and storied…A true treasure!” — Deborah Willis, author of Reflections in Black and the acclaimed documentary, Through a Lens Darkly

“This stunning volume presents 160 photographs, some for the first time, and they not only follow Douglass throughout his life but also place him within the times he lived…. Stauffer, Zoe Trodd, and Celeste-Marie Bernier point out that Douglass saw the truth-telling aspects of photography and how it could be used as a tool in the fight against slavery, as photos both humanized African Americans and revealed the horrors of their enslavement. This tour de force is a must-have that will enhance history and reference collections.” — Patricia Ann Owens, Library Journal, Starred review

“This illustrious book collects all 160 photographs of renowned abolitionist Frederick Douglass and astutely places Douglass’s personal interest in photography into the context of his career and legacy…. This study provides a multifaceted, unique look at one of the most influential figures of American history.” — Publishers Weekly

“An impressive collection…give[s] a wonderful picture of the man, his intellect, and his devotion to his main cause, abolition…. The authors have pieced together an illuminating life portrait without extraneous biographical material, focusing intensely on their subject's belief in the strength of photographs.” — Kirkus Reviews

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    Second Edition / Paperback