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Looking for Mr. Gilbert

The Reimagined Life of an African American

List Price: $16.00

December 19, 2006 | Paperback |  6 x 9, 288 Pages | ISBN 9781593761424
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"With his expertise in historical photography, Mitchell renders astonishingly detailed descriptions, giving flesh to the sparse historical record of Gilbert's achievements. A brilliant look at photography, history, and race." —Booklist

Thirty years ago in the attic of an old estate in Massachusetts, John Hanson Mitchell discovered over two thousand antique glass plate negatives. He was told that the photographs had been taken by nineteenth-century ornithologist and conservationist William Brewster, but as a result of a tip from a Harvard research assistant, he began to suspect that the images were actually the work of Brewster’s African American assistant, Robert A. Gilbert.

So begins the author’s journey. From the maze-like archives at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology to the Virginia countryside and haunts of American expats in 1920s Paris, as well as the rich cultural world of blacks in nineteenth-century Boston, Mitchell brings sharp focus to the figure of Mr. Gilbert, a quiet, unassuming Renaissance man who succeeded as best as he could beneath the iron ceiling of American racism. Told with Mitchell’s trademark grace and style, the fascinating story of this “invisible man” deepens our understanding of the African-American past as well as the history of American photography.

About John H. Mitchell

JOHN H. MITCHELL, winner of the 1994 John Burroughs Essay Award, is the author of The Wildest Place on Earth, Ceremonial Time, and Trespassing. He is also the editor of Sanctuary, the journal of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, and a recipient of the New England Booksellers’ Award in 2000 for his body of work. He lives in Littleton, Massachusetts.

Praise

“Mitchell tells a remarkable story of the discovery and authentication of a hitherto invisible African American life. Mitchell does so with warmth and wit, and he opens our eyes to an important figure in American photography.” —Henry Louis Gates, Jr., American historian and literary scholar

“With his expertise in historical photography, Mitchell renders astonishingly detailed descriptions, giving flesh to the sparse historical record of Gilbert’s achievements. A brilliant look at photography, history, and race.” —Booklist

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