James Presley Ball, a Black Daguerreotypist in 19th Century Cincinnati
The exhibition explores the life and work of activist, entrepreneur, and image creator JP Ball (1825–1904) with a focus on his Cincinnati studio. In dialogue with contemporary photographer Melvin Grier, the exhibition uses Ball’s work as a touchstone for a larger conversation about image making, race, class, wealth, and societal change at a formative time in a city that was, at the time, a cultural gateway, spatially, socially, and culturally. The exhibition plumbs the archives to weave a visual narrative centered on this enigmatic daguerreotypist, navigating class and racial divides, whose work had global reach and captured images from forgotten soldiers and children to figures including Frederick Douglass, Charles Dickens, and Queen Victoria. The exhibition illuminates and discusses the social and cultural contexts behind image-making on the “fringes,” visual work’s ability to negotiate, subvert, or influence culture.
Curators: Melvin Grier, Cedric Rose
James Presley Ball, Unidentified boy [James Polk?], 1874–1877. Albumen print on carte de visite, 3 7/8 x 2 3/8 inches. Courtesy of Cincinnati History Library and Archives
James Presley Ball, Portrait of James Presley Ball, Daguerreotype. Courtesy of Cincinnati History Library and Archives