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Baptism from Roll, Jordan, Roll
Doris Ulmann was a New York society photographer who worked from a darkroom in her Park Avenue apartment. She had a strong sense of social responsibility and decided to photograph American subcultures that were disappearing in the face of industrialization and urbanization. Ulmann photographed the Pennsylvania Amish, Louisiana Creoles, and Shakers and made trips into the Appalachian region in her chauffeur-driven Lincoln.
In the 1920s, Ulmann traveled to the South Carolina plantation of novelist Julia Peterkin to photograph the Gullah people. The Gullahs are descendants of slaves who had worked the rice and cotton fields near the coast. Ulmann was fascinated by them, and besides making many handsome portraits, she documented their work and the surrounding landscape. This beautiful photograph of a baptism is part of a series on Gullah religious rituals, published with Peterkin’s text as the book Roll, Jordan, Roll.
Ulmann worked in the older pictorial style, which featured carefully posed subjects depicted in warm tones and soft focus. At the same time, she was driven by a more modern documentary sensibility, similar to that of her contemporaries Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans. Her work is a rare successful blending of the two different modes, balanced between romantic pictorialism and the social realism of the Depression.
from Snite Museum of Art, Selected Works: Snite Museum of Art (Notre Dame, 2005)