When working on the Chapman albums, we each developed our own relationship to the albums and the images they contain. That relationship might be a practical one, such as having a task to complete. But often, after time spent with the images, a researcher’s mind turns to bolder purposes. In this essay, Chavon Taylor wrestles with her goals for work with Arabella’s images. Can she be objective? Should she?
How may Arabella be related to me, you wonder? I’m a senior trying to unlock with my team the significance of Arabella’s life through two albums.
There were obstacles ahead before the project even began. The photos were out of sequence, and my team had one hour to travel to the off site building to dismantle the albums. We gauged the fragility of the album and the quality of its covers. We have divided up the photos to be analyzed and are in the process of creating videos that will document our journey.
Conducting research demands that I look at the work in front of me objectively, but it is difficult. Society gives objects, people, clothing, and culture meaning. The last thing I want to do is push my own assumptions of Arabella and her family onto the project. For example, I would like to believe that one of my favorite authors, Zora Neale Hurston, died an old woman in her bed peacefully and comfortably, but in reality she was an ill woman that died in poverty. Work on the Chapman albums calls for the whole team to collaborate and analyze together what we see. I’m very excited to continue this project; it is an act of justice for Arabella and the preservation of her legacy.
— Chavon Taylor