Trailblazing African American Photographer Celebrated This Summer

  • Monday, May 22, 2023

This summer, the remarkable life and contributions of Horace Brazelton (1877 – 1956) are the subject of a public exhibit titled, “Through the Lens: The Life and Legacy of Horace Brazelton.” Curated by historian Stefanie Haire, the exhibit, hosted by Ruby Falls, shares the groundbreaking career and empowering community leadership of Brazelton.

Exhibit admission is free and open to the public June 7 – Sept. 15 at Ruby Falls in the circa 1929 castle. Ruby Falls tickets are not required to visit the exhibit. The exhibition is open from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.

As the first African American to open a professional photography studio in Chattanooga, Horace Brazelton’s prolific career photographing middle-class Black communities across the region spanned the first half of the 20th century, 1904 to 1956. His camera lens captured countless portraits of Black families and individuals, as well as Black church, professional and civic groups, at a time when access to photography was limited, and mass media frequently portrayed African Americans unfavorably and inaccurately.

The exhibit features Brazelton’s artistic merits as a nationally recognized, award-winning portrait photographer whose work embodied the humanity of the people he depicted, as well as his considerable endeavors as a community leader. During the era of Jim Crow laws in the South, Brazelton supported and invested in Black Chattanoogans. As a proponent of civic responsibility, Brazelton facilitated voter registration drives and voter participation, encouraged property ownership to support community stability, established Black history remembrances, and championed small business development and economic growth in the Black business district located on East 9th Street, now called Martin Luther King Boulevard, and in the surrounding area.

Drawing on several years of extensive research, historian and exhibit curator Stefanie Haire presents the exhibition that examines the roots of Brazelton’s legacy through his portrait photography and community contributions. Her ongoing research has been in partnership with the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University and Picnooga (Chattanooga Historical Society), with contributions by Bessie Smith Cultural Center, the Library of Congress, the African American Cemetery Preservation Fund, Presbyterian Historical Society, Walden’s Ridge Civic League, Dr. Earnestine Jenkins, River City Company, Emory University, the Chattanooga Public Library, and the Southeast Tennessee Development District.

“These photos capture more than just simple moments in time, but rather represent hundreds of lives who helped build Chattanooga, and the memory of their legacies,” said Stefanie Haire, historian and curator of the exhibit. She adds, “the largest body of Mr. Brazelton’s portraits remains in private family collections or are now difficult to locate.”

"Ruby Falls is honored to host this exhibit," said Hugh Morrow, Ruby Falls president and CEO. "Horace Brazelton was truly a talented artist, remarkable entrepreneur and committed community leader. We are delighted and humbled to share his story and contributions."

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