Welcome to The Arabella Chapman Project.

What can we learn from two photo albums assembled by an African American woman and her family in the last decades of the nineteenth century? Their pages are filled with layers of family, community, and politics. Assembled in Albany, NY and North Adams, MA — tintype, carte-de-visite, and snap shot images — Arabella Chapman’s albums tell histories both intimate and epic.

Black Americans, including Arabella’s family and neighbors, sat for and then assembled their own images, crafting counter-narratives that challenged a rising tide of racism. At the same time, in their images are a politics of pleasure. From careful sartorial choices in formal portraits to rare scenes of leisure, the Chapman albums provide us an intimate glimpse into how black Americans embodied the lived pleasure of everyday life.

Arabella Chapman’s albums have been carefully preserved at the University of Michigan’s William L. Clements Library. Once available only to researchers, today this site makes these rare artifacts and the stories they tell available to broad audiences.

Join us! Explore Arabella’s world and become part of this living interpretive project. Our comment sections invite you to talk with us about the images and their meanings. We look forward to hearing from you.