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Race, photography and history

Lincoln Presidential Library welcomes one of nation's top photography scholars on April 3

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[March 27, 2014]  SPRINGFIELD One of the nation's leading experts on photography, race and history visits the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum on April 3 to discuss how photography helped African-Americans establish a new place in society after the Civil War.

Shawn Michelle Smith studies the power of photography to influence society and shape people's perceptions. In her many books, Smith has examined the once-common practice of photographing lynchings, the way early African-American leaders used photos to claim new social and political identities, and the link between photos and abuse of power by authorities.

Her free appearance begins at 6 p.m., when Smith signs copies of her books. Then, at 6:30 in the presidential museum's Union Theater, she discusses "Pictures and Progress: Frederick Douglass and the Revolutionary Power of Photography."

To reserve a seat for Smith's appearance, visit or call 217-558-8934.

Smith is appearing in conjunction with the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum's presentation of "Pilgrimage," an exhibition of photographs by Annie Leibovitz. More about this display of a unique artist's vision is available at

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"A photograph reveals things about the photographer as well as the subject. That's part of what makes 'Pilgrimage' so fascinating. Shawn Michelle Smith looks at photographs from African-American history and asks what they reveal about the people and society behind the camera," said Eileen Mackevich, executive director of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

An artist in her own right, Smith is an associate professor at Chicago's School of the Art Institute.

Smith's most recent book, "At the Edge of Sight," has been called "beautifully written and deeply original." Her "Lynching Photographs" won praise for "admirable courage." And Smith herself has been deemed "our foremost scholar" on early American photography.

[Text from Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum file received from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency]

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