Manipulating Frederick Douglass and His Historical RecordRoundup
tags: abolition, Frederick Douglass
Kevin M. Levin is an award-winning educator and historian based in Boston, Massachusetts, and the author of Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth.
Like many of you I have been thoroughly entertained by the new AI technology introduced by MyHeritage that brings motion to still photographs. Upload a still photograph and watch your subject come to life through ever so slight changes to its facial expression.
I’ve seen people respond strongly to the sight of deceased family members, who appear to be magically brought back to life for a few fleeting seconds.
Not surprisingly, numerous still photographs of famous Americans have been uploaded to the site. Some of them are just downright awkward, while others look very natural in their facial movements. There is young Abraham Lincoln and Henry Clay. John Calhoun looks even creepier in motion, if that is even possible.
Of all the historic figures that have been uploaded from nineteenth-century America the one that I find most impressive is Frederick Douglass. I’ve seen a couple of different animated photographs and they are mesmerizing. Here are two examples from different periods in his life.
Frederick Douglass, the mighty abolitionist, was the single most photographed person in the United States during the nineteenth century. Here's how he might've looked in motion. Brace yourself and press play. pic.twitter.com/HOxDK7jGyh— La Marr Jurelle Bruce (@Afromanticist) February 28, 2021
I wonder if one of the attractions of these animations is the desire to feel closer to a past that always seems to slip through our fingers. But the longer I spent glued to the computer screen watching Douglass twitch, sway, and blink the more I felt as if I was violating his trust.
The authors of Picturing Frederick Douglass, have identified 168 “separate photographs” of Frederick Douglass, making him the most photographed American in the nineteenth century. According to the authors of the book, Douglass “defined himself as a free man and citizen as much through his portraits as his words.”