Exit Point: Tracing the Value of Black Vernacular Photographs From and Beyond the Domestic Archive


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


This project examines domestic archives (collections of family photographs within the home) of Black people and posits them as objects that store and bestow ‘soul value,’ a concept of self-worth that is rooted in the Atlantic slave trade and defiant of the commodification of Black bodies, coined by historian Daina Ramey Berry. Tracing what becomes of these photographs at their ‘exit point,’ or way out of the domestic archive and onto the market, this project explores the practices of collectors, dealers, and curators of photography to establish economic and sociolinguistic histories of Black domestic archives. It argues that the quality of anonymity of most vernacular images on the market primes photographs for meaning and value to be projected onto them. To assess how the domestic archive and its aesthetics have been taken up in art, this project evaluates works by Dawoud Bey, Deana Lawson, Zoe Leonard, and Carrie Mae Weems.