Notes: A full-length cabinet card portrait of Sojourner Truth with the caption, "I sell the shadow to support the substance." This is one of Truth's last portraits, taken when she was in her eighties and purchased in bulk to sell at events, hence the caption. During the Civil War, Truth took the unusual step of acquiring the copyright to her portrait, giving her control over both the distribution of her image and the money it generated. The verso (back) of the mount of this photograph includes Truth's copyright statement.
Truth (1797–1883), born Isabella Baumfree, was one of the best-known abolitionists and women's rights advocates of the 19th century. She traveled the country for decades giving talks and attending conferences, selling her photographs—her "shadow"—as a primary means of support.
The art professor Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby has published an extensive study of Truth's photographs (Enduring Truths, 2015). Based on Grigsby's research into the archives of the Detroit photographer Corydon C. Randall, this image was made about June 13, 1881, during photography session K (Enduring Truths, figure 117). Randall also records that Truth purchased 100 copies of this image for $5.00. Grigsby calls this "an astonishingly large order for a woman in her eighties." but as an edition size for some of the last photographs of Truth, they are astonishingly small. Truth posed before Randall's camera two more times in the coming months. No later images of Truth are known.
Grigby describes this standing pose in her book: The photographs "stage her against a pedestal in front of a painted seaside backdrop. The effect is unique among her portraits. She stands in what purports to be a natural scene; her figure is smaller than the background, suggesting a vastness of space we have not seen before... Even as we recognize its artifice we indulge in the illusion of space and air and natural light that it so economically suggests... In these late seaside portraits, there is a soft, winsome quality, intensified when we realize that she is in her eighties and at the very end of a long, arduous life of personal and political struggle (see pp. 178–184)."
Albumen photograph, 3-7/8 by 5-7/8 inches. Mount 4-3/16 by 6-3/8 inches.
Edition + Condition: A very good example of this rare cabinet card image. Grigsby was unable to locate an original cabinet card of this image. The photograph is somewhat yellowed, with minor staining. The mount is shaved slightly along the bottom edge; there is an old pinhole in the upper margin of the mount (not affecting the photograph), and the upper right corner of the print is cracked.
Publication: Detroit: Randall, Photographer, [June 13, 1881].
Item No: #362740