Inside or outside his photo studio, Hugh Mangum (1877–1922) created an atmosphere –respectful and often playful – in which hundreds of men, women and children genuinely revealed themselves. Keep All You Wish: The Photographs of Hugh Mangum features a selection of images of early 20th century Southern society that show personalities as immediate as if they were taken yesterday. Born and raised in Durham, NC, Mangum began establishing studios and working as an itinerant photographer in the early 1890s, traveling by rail through North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. Remarkable for his time, Mangum attracted and cultivated a clientele that drew heavily from both black and white communities. Although the early 20th century American South in which he worked was marked by disenfranchisement, segregation and inequality – between black and white, men and women, rich and poor – Mangum portrayed all of his sitters with candor, humor and spirit. Above all, he showed them as individuals. Each client appears as valuable as the next, no story less significant.
During Mangum’s lifetime he likely exposed thousands of glass plate negatives. Sadly, after his death most of these were destroyed through benign neglect or are now lost, as were almost all records of the names and dates associated with them. The images that survived, around 700 glass plate negatives, were salvaged from the tobacco pack house where Mangum built his first darkroom. Today they are in various states of an unfortunate, yet often poetic, deterioration. Some plates are broken and on others the emulsion is peeling away, but the hundreds of vibrant personalities in the photographs prevail, engaging our emotions, intellect and imagination. The contemporary reprints in this exhibition are pigmented inkjet photographs on acid-free paper printed with archival inks.
A century after their making, Mangum’s images – preserved within Duke University’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library – allow us a penetrating gaze into individual faces of the past. In a larger sense, they offer an unusually revealing glimpse of the early 20th century American South.
This exhibition is organized by the Asheville Art Museum and guest curated by Sarah Stacke.
We thank the Judy Appleton Memorial Fund for their support of this exhibition.