A Zeiss Ikon camera resting on a yellowed book (via Flickr)

Editor’s Note: This endorsement is part of a special edition that Hyperallergic published on the ongoing legal case to return the photos of Renty and Delia Taylor to their descendants.

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As a scholar of African American history and photography whose work has focused on the status of violent images in museums and archives, I fully support the validity of Ms. Tamara Lanier’s claim and the amicus brief. The daguerreotypes of Mr. Renty Taylor and Ms. Delia Taylor are valuable only because of the subjects therein. Those subjects, configured as objects in the daguerreotypes for the sole purpose of confirming European racial superiority, can be fully recognized as human subjects by granting Ms. Lanier custody of her ancestors. 

The images were taken under horrific conditions and constitute more than coercion—they show an act that could only have perpetrated against bonded people during slavery. African Americans are no longer enslaved; the daguerreotypes, then, constitute fruit from a poisonous tree. They ought not to continue to be circulated, monetized, and owned according to the same logic under which they were forcibly taken. 

Restituting the daguerreotypes to Ms. Lanier will not only declare that there was indeed a crime against two human beings, but that the law in the United States is equipped to dispense justice for Ms. Lanier, and for all its citizens descended from enslaved Africans. 

Jane'a Johnson is Artistic Director of Foam Fotografiemuseum in Amsterdam. She is formerly Assistant Professor of Theory of Art + Design and History, Philosophy + Social Sciences at Rhode Island School...