The Scarlet

Bullard Photographs offer a unique glimpse at past Worcester community

Anna Schaeffer, Scarlet Staff

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The photographs of William Bullard were displayed last Saturday for public view at the Belmont AME Church on Crystal Street.  William H. G. Bullard was a notoriously itinerant artist and photographer who made stop in Worcester, Massachusetts to capture the residents of the Beaver Brook neighborhood.  The exhibition provides a candid, warm representation of the families of color in the area, who flooded the North in the early 20th century. Many families moved to Worcester during this period for the thriving abolitionist activities here.  Through researching the subjects of the photographs, it was discovered that a few of them were connected to their descendants, some scattered across the country and others still right here in Worcester.

Bullard took over five thousand photographs of Worcester and its residential families. A look at the archives shows the faces of the subjects, and how Bullard was able to capture a sense of their everyday lives. Unlike many photographs taken at the time, Bullard’s work shows his subjects smiling, sitting in their front porches or kitchens, offering a uniquely humanizing effect on the photos. The subjects wear their best clothing, hug their children to keep them from squirming, and sometimes pose in front of many Worcester-familiar buildings.

The effect is startlingly humanizing, particularly for Victorian photographs which often portray stiff-lipped subjects and blank backgrounds.  Too often, the hidden histories of places like Worcester are overlooked. It may be easy to forget that the people who lived in this city long before we did even existed, smiled in their kitchens, giggled on their front steps, and helped to build the city itself.

The photographs were taken between 1897 and 1917, and capture a dynamic community of former slaves who were fleeing the nightmare of reconstruction, Native Americans, and several Caribbean immigrants. In a statement, Janette Greenwood, one of Clark’s very own history professors, said that “The stories behind many of William Bullard’s portraits tells a fundamentally American narrative, one in which people decide to leave behind an old world to see new opportunities.” Indeed, the Bullard Portraits, so numerous and diverse in their subjects, offer a powerful reminder of the nature of our city and its deep and entwined historical roots.

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Bullard Photographs offer a unique glimpse at past Worcester community