Andrew James


When examining an image, a viewer often focuses on what they see and less often on what they are able to see. Nowhere is this as true, and as problematic, as it is with the visual representation of persons of African descent. This study describes how problematic photographic representation was used as a powerful semiotic tool in the Victorian age conquest of the other, was exported to early Hollywood (creating a lucrative hate-based industry), and was then pushed back into the cultural recesses, settling finally into systemic forms of modern oppression, empowered by the invisibility of whiteness. Images from the RIT archives serve as the text, multiple theories serve as the framework, and Barthes’ cultural semiotic contextual method of analysis serves as the tool with which to understand the images - revealing a complex portrait of power and privilege.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

African Americans--Portraits--History; Portrait photography--History and criticism; Rochester Institute of Technology--Archives; Visual communication--Philosophy; Racism in art; Racism in education

Publication Date


Document Type


Student Type


Degree Name

Communication and Media Technologies (MS)

Department, Program, or Center

School of Communication (CLA)


Andrea Hickerson

Advisor/Committee Member

Grant Cos

Advisor/Committee Member

Jonathan Schroeder


RIT – Main Campus

Plan Codes