Frederick Douglass, a prominent abolitionist orator, writer, and statesman, is the subject of this daguerreotype portrait made circa 1855. Born a slave, Douglass escaped to freedom in 1838. Of this portrait and his relationship to the medium of photography, curators at the Metropolitan Museum of Art note:
One of the first critical theorists of photography, Douglass delivered multiple lectures on the topic between 1861 and 1865, including "Pictures and Progress," on the medium’s ability to render subjective consciousness in an objective form. He advocated for photography’s potential to counteract distorted representations of African Americans and reverse the "social death" caused by slavery. Douglass posed for a series of influential portraits over several decades and circulated his image broadly in multiple photographic formats.