Keep All You Wish: The Photographs of Hugh Mangum
Keep All You Wish: The Photographs of Hugh Mangum features a selection of turn-of-the-twentieth-century portraits from the Hugh Mangum Collection, preserved within Duke University’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Born and raised in Durham, North Carolina Mangum began establishing studios and working as an itinerant photographer in the early 1890s, traveling by rail through North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. Rare for his time, Mangum attracted and cultivated a clientele that drew heavily from both the African American and white communities, especially in his hometown. In Mangum’s lifetime he likely exposed thousands of glass plate negatives; sadly most of those were destroyed through benign neglect after his death or are now lost, as are any records of the names and dates associated with the images.
In 1922, six weeks before his death at age forty-four, Mangum wrote a letter to his sister Lula signed, “Give my love to all and keep all you wish, Your Brother Hugh.” It’s possible he anticipated death, or maybe the salutation is simply an indicator of his kind spirit. Read as an expression of his pictures, the phrase “keep all you wish” suggests Mangum’s generosity in creating an atmosphere–respectful and often playful– in which the many hundreds of men, women and children who posed for him were able to genuinely reveal themselves. A century later, Mangum’s sensitive portraits allow us a penetrating gaze into the faces of Durham’s past. And in a larger and historical sense, they offer an unusually perceptive glimpse of the early 20th century American South.
SARAH STACKE, curator (Duke University 2012, M.A. in Liberal Studies with concentrations in African and African American Studies and Documentary Arts)