Renowned photographer Ansel Adams once said, “Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art.” African American photographer Albert Durant accomplished both, melding talent and style with a desire to document the world around him. What resulted was an unusually vivid lens into everyday black life and culture in the mid-twentieth century—one that visitors to the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library can experience themselves, throughout the month of February.
Although born in New York City, Williamsburg became Durant’s home when the family relocated following his father’s death in 1929. He began his lifelong passion for photography while a student at the segregated James City County Training School, taking pictures of classmates, friends, and neighbors. “In effect,” curators explain, “documenting the life of a typical African American teenager.”
As an adult, Durant started his own chauffeuring and limousine business, and thanks to his knowledge of American history and local landmarks, he developed a reputation as an informed, sought-after tour guide. His clientele included celebrities, politicians, and even foreign dignitaries, like Queen Elizabeth II and Prince of Japan—and like all good photographers, Durant had his camera at the ready.
Yet perhaps most fascinating of all are the hundreds of portraits and snapshots capturing the rhythms of black life in Williamsburg.
As the first African American city-licensed photographer, he documented everything from sporting events to church activities to the black-owned business community—while also serving as a civic leader, himself.
As a result of his life’s work, and the nearly 10,000 objects in the Albert Durant Collection, we have a vivid window into Williamsburg’s black community. Want to see it for yourself? Visit the Rockefeller Library and its current exhibition: Albert Durant: A Lens Focused Upon African American History, open Monday through Friday, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm. A “Wall of Remembrance” is also included in the exhibit, where community members can review photocopies of images from the collection in hopes of identifying currently unknown people, places, and events.
Happy birthday, Mr. Durant!
A special thank you to Visual Resources Collection Services Librarian, Marianne Martin, for digging deep in the archives to make this post possible.
NEW BLOGGER: JENN LYON
Jenn Lyon is the community manager for Colonial Williamsburg’s social media team. She is passionate about helping others understand the past, and recognize how it influences us all everyday. Faulkner said the past is never dead–and he was right.
She holds BS degrees in history and political science, an MA in American history, and receives her PhD in American history in May 2016.
Jenn enjoys making people laugh, long walks on the beach, and ironic use of the hashtag #blessed.