Amelia M. Watson’s Photographs
In 1915, the illustrator, photographer, and painter Amelia M. Watson, inspired by her fascination with the transatlantic actress, writer, and social historian Fanny Kemble’s memoir Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation (1864), traveled with two female companions to the remains of Kemble’s plantation located on St. Simons Island off the coast of Georgia. Once there she took a stunning series of photographs of the plantation house, the surrounding landscape, and the descendants of the original enslaved people who lived there. In this chapter I explore what I call Amelia Watson’s “plantation tourism,” investigating the overlapping and contradictory narratives of sympathy, voyeurism, and aesthetic practice present in the interplay between Watson’s images, the texts that accompany her photographs, and the original narratives the images were meant to illustrate. Watson’s projects consciously and unconsciously reinforce the ideology of white supremacy, while at the same time specific photographs, particularly of female subjects, recreate and reimagine the haunting realities of the past, potentially providing a more progressive narrative of survival and renewal through their presence.
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