University of Hartford
Hartford, Conn

AUGUSTUS WASHINGTON was an African American photographer and Hartford resident. He born in Trenton, New Jersey in 1820; the son of a former slave.

This monument is a series of snapshots made in collaboration with University of Hartford students and staff as part of Reading Room: Urgent Pedagogy. The interactive installation-- an updated reimagining of the photo studio of 19th century Augustus Washington--invites visitors to take a selfie, print it out, and share it with their community.

To pay college expenses, Washington learned to make daguerreotypes in his freshman year at Dartmouth College, where he was the only black student enrolled. At the time, the daguerreotype was the newest and most popular photographic process. It involved the creation of an image by exposing an iodine-sensitized silvered plate treated with mercury vapor to light projected into a camera obscura or ‘dark room’.

Washington dropped out of Dartmouth in 1844, unable to bear the cost of higher education, and moved to Hartford, Connecticut. Here, he taught at a school for black students and opened one of Hartford's first portrait galleries in his home.

Washington welcomed local African-Americans to his studio. Their portraits are rare examples of new media at the predawn of the Civil War, bringing black subjects into focus where they had previously occupied the blurry margins of society. Washington welcomed white customers as well, including the abolitionist and insurrectionist, John Brown, born in the neighboring town of Torrington.

Washington moved with his family to Liberia in 1853, drawn by the promise of a black national homeland. He continued to practice his craft in West Africa, documenting politicians, and even becoming one himself before retiring from both photography and politics to become a farmer.