Stunning portraits a Massachutts community of color in Beaver Brook, 1897-1917

William Bullard, born in Worcester, Massachusetts, worked as a photographer without a studio, visiting clients around town with his camera tied to his bicycle.

From 1897 to 1917, Bullard, who was white, captured portraits of his predominantly black and Native American neighbors in his yards, gardens, and living rooms.

Bullard identified more than 80% of the sitters in his logbook, making this collection particularly rare among existing photographic collections of people of color taken before World War I, and allowing the photographs to tell specific stories about individuals and more accurately. enabled to reconstruct the historical context.

In addition, Bullard's illustrations examine the role of photography as a vehicle for the "New Black Identity" during the early years of the Black Movement.

Offering a photographic narrative of migration and resettlement after Emancipation and Reconstruction, Bullard's illustrations address larger themes associated with race in American history, many of which are still relevant today, in particular, the story of people of color. It also claims their rightful place in the society. As a Native American story of migration, immigration and building a community in a new environment.

The photographs, and the stories of the families depicted in them, are presented in an exhibition at the Worcester Art Museum in "Rediscovering an American Community of Colour: The Photographs of William Bullard".

Bullard also traveled beyond Worcester - by trolley, train and wagon - to forty-five different communities around New England and as far away as Buffalo, New York. His subjects reflect his wide range of interests – paintings, street scenes, trains, trolleys, parades and military cantonments.

It is still an open question as to where Bullard acquired his superior skills in photography, but he appears to be self-taught, as he has not been found listed as an apprentice to any master photographer.

Remarkably, he scoured the numbers in about 980 out of 5400 negatives and then wrote down a similar number and description in his logbook, which survived with the negative.

There are some notations in his logbook to indicate that he received funding for some prints, but there is no detailed record of the profitability of his work. However, there is evidence that he worked as a school photographer in Holden, Worcester and Brookfields.

Bullard never married and lived his entire life with his mother and at least one brother. He died, by suicide, at the end of April 1918 when he was 41 years old. He was found by his brothers, Marcus and Herbert, as he had not been seen for a few weeks and went in search of him.

According to his obituary, he was depressed and ill and had not been active in his business for several months. It appears that combined with the recent demise of his mother, Ellen, caused his suicide.

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