Michael Francis Blake photographs, circa 1912-1934
Navigate the Collection
- Blake, Michael Francis, -1934
- Michael Francis Blake was one of Charleston, South Carolina's first African American studio photographers. Collection consists of 118 photographs, mostly studio portraits taken by Michael Francis Blake from about 1912 to 1934, with some outdoor settings. There is also a full set of copy prints. The great majority of the subjects appear to be African American; however, there are also individuals who are multi-racial, and possibly white and Asian. Formats comprise 91 photographic postcards and 28 black-and-white prints, many on card mounts but some in the form of more casual snapshots; there are also eight copy negatives. A few of the photographs may be taken by others. Thirty-six individuals in the photographs have been identified, including a portrait of the photographer. Acquired as part of the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture at Duke University.
- 1.0 Linear Foot
- Physical Description:
- 1.0 Linear Feet
- Collection ID:
- Scope and content:
Collection consists of 118 photographs of men, women, and children as single individuals, family groups, and other group shots. There is also a full set of copy prints (preferred for access) and eight copy negatives. The great majority of the subjects appear to be African American; however, there are individuals who are multi-racial, and possibly white and Asian. The photographs were taken by Michael Francis Blake, an African American photographer from Charleston, South Carolina, from about 1912 to 1934, mostly in his studio at 384 West Sumter Street. There are a few that may have been taken by another indiviual. Some of the photographs are stamped with Blake's name and studio addresses.
The majority of the photographs were originally housed in a photograph album entitled "Portraits of Members," also included in the collection, but have been rehoused for preservation purposes. Ninety-one of the photos are photographic postcards and the others are either mounted photographs or snapshots. The predominant style is the formal studio portrait, standing or seated. There are also some informal snapshots that may or may not have been taken by Blake. Some portraits were taken outdoors in front of a backdrop with props such as rugs, chairs and plants to recreate a studio setting. Others were taken on the street; the location of photograph #28 has been identified as just outside of Blake's studio. Some have what appear to be shopping lists and other notations written on the backs, and a few have names, ages, and street addresses, presumably of the sitter or their household.
Through existing captions and public input, thirty-six individuals in the photographs have been identified, including the photographer, Michael Francis Blake, who appears in one portrait.
Each original print has been assigned a unique institutional identifier. All but one have been digitized and are available online through the Duke Digital Collections website.
- Biographical / historical:
Michael Francis Blake, a graduate of Avery Normal Institute, was one of Charleston, South Carolina's first African American studio photographers. He was born in 1879 on Johns Island, South Carolina, and married Cecelia Ford from Georgetown, S.C. in 1899. Blake moved to Charleston with his family around 1900 and began to work professionally as a photographer in 1912.
Blake had a studio and residence at 12 W. Sumter Street, which later became 384 W. Sumter Street after the street was renumbered in 1918. He also regularly set up his camera on the northwest corner of Radcliffe and King Streets in Charleston. Blake died in Charleston in 1934 at age 55.
- Acquisition information:
- The Michael Francis Blake photographs were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library as a gift in 1986 and 2020.
- Processing information:
Processed by Beth Ann Koelsch, October 2006.
Description for boxes 2-3 added and original prints rehoused to mitigate acid migration and protect emulsions, Paula Jeannet, 2017.
One print added by Paula Jeannet, February 2020.
Accession(s) described in this collection guide: 1995-0045, 2020-0016.
- Rules or conventions:
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Click on terms below to find related finding aids on this site. For other related materials in the Duke University Libraries, search for these terms in the Catalog.
- African American families -- Portraits
African American photographers -- South Carolina -- Charleston
African Americans -- Photographs
African Americans -- Portraits
African Americans -- South Carolina -- Charleston
Asian Americans -- South Carolina -- Charleston -- Portraits
Photography -- South Carolina
Portrait photographers -- South Carolina
Racially mixed people -- South Carolina -- Portraits
- Black-and-white photographs
- Blake, Michael Francis, -1934
- Charleston (S.C.) -- History
Charleston (S.C.) -- Social life and customs
South Carolina -- History
Using These Materials
- Using These Materials Links:
Using These Materials
Original film negatives are closed to use.
Due to the fragility of the original photographs, reference prints or the online digital images are the preferred use format.
- Terms of access:
Materials in this collection are in the public domain.
- Before you visit:
- Please consult our up-to-date information for visitors page, as our services and guidelines periodically change.
- Preferred citation:
[Identification of item], Michael Francis Blake photographs, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.