An Ethiopian Chief
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Fred Holland Day
American, Massachusetts, negative: 1897, print: about 1905
Gum bichromate print
4 11/16 x 4 5/8 in.

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This striking photograph was part of Fred Holland Day's "Nubian" series of costume and figure studies of black males in 1897. The sitter's identity is unknown, and Day was clearly attempting to represent him not as an individual but rather as an ideal type.

Photographed from slightly below eye-level, the "chief" casts a glance down at the viewer. Along with his open, assertive posture, his haughty, imperious gaze successfully conjures up a chief's commanding presence, even if the designation is fictional. The robe the sitter wears is North African; the pigeon-feather headdress, though it lends a strong pictorial effect, is not.

The gently dappled light and soft tones of the gum bichromate print render the sitter's boldly exposed, velvety skin as sensually as possible. Alfred Stieglitz reproduced the image as a photogravure in his Camera Notes in 1897.