A collection of black and white images hanging on a wall

Special Exhibit Celebrates Trailblazing Black Photographer

This summer, discover the extraordinary life and achievements of Horace Brazelton (1877-1956) at the exhibit titled “Through the Lens: The Life and Legacy of Horace Brazelton.”  This free exhibition, curated by historian Stefanie Haire and hosted by Ruby Falls, showcases Brazelton’s pioneering career and inspiring leadership in the Chattanooga community. The exhibit is free, and Ruby Falls tickets are not required. Open from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM, 7 days a week, the exhibit runs through September 15, 2023.

4 people stand in a hallway viewing an exhibit

Who Was Horace Brazelton?

As the first African American to open a professional photography studio in Chattanooga, Brazelton’s camera lens captured countless portraits of middle-class Black communities during the first half of the 20th century. His extensive list of clients included individuals, families, church groups, professional gatherings, and civic clubs. His work embodied the humanity of the people he depicted at a time when access to photography was limited and mass media frequently portrayed African Americans unfavorably and inaccurately.

A collection of black and white images hanging on a wall

Anyone who adores finding long-lost family photos or scouring genealogy websites will find kinship with Brazelton’s photography.

During the era of Jim Crow laws, Brazelton not only successfully launched and expanded his photography business but also contributed to the growth, well-being, and economic stability of the local Black community through a range of initiatives. He was dedicated to empowering the Black community. By championing home and property ownership, organizing voter registration drives, and advocating for recognition of Black history and economic growth through small business development, Brazelton actively encouraged and invested in Black Chattanoogans. His efforts supported the growth of commerce in the Black business district of the East 9th Street area (currently known as MLK Blvd) and Black Chattanoogans economic mobility.

A vintage newspaper clipping advertising photography services

Despite being a talented artist, remarkable entrepreneur, and committed community leader, Brazelton’s story is largely unknown. His forgotten artistic and civic contributions hint at an erasure of African American history. Black history is American history.

After several years of researching Horace Brazelton, historian Stefanie Haire created the exhibit Through the Lens: The Life and Legacy of Horace Brazelton.

About the Exhibit

Exhibit visitors have the opportunity to view a portrait gallery of Mr. Brazelton’s work and see early 20th-century photo enlarging equipment along with a re-creation of his photography studio, and listen to a reading of the 1917 speech Brazelton gave at the annual conference of the National Negro Business League held in Chattanooga. The exhibit includes informative, thought-provoking panels providing historical context of Jim Crow laws, which powerfully connect the viewer to this pivotal era.

“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,” says Stefanie Haire, historian and curator of the exhibit.

Two women stand holding wine viewing an exhibit piece against the wall

Visit the Exhibition

Exhibit admission is free and open to the public June 7 – Sept 15, 2023 at Ruby Falls in the circa 1929 castle. Ruby Falls tickets are not required to visit the exhibit. The exhibition is open 8:00 AM – 8:00 PM.

Include a visit to “Through the Lens: The Life and Legacy of Horace Brazelton” in your summer plans. You’ll learn about an incredible and inspiring Chattanoogan and discover free educational activities! It’s an experience you won’t want to miss.

Two women stand viewing an exhibit, a window viewing the mountains is in the background

This exhibit is made possible through the support from the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University, Picnooga (Chattanooga Historical Society), and Ruby Falls, 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.

A woman stands viewing displayed historical black and white photographs

Jaclyn Lewis

PR specialist at Ruby Falls

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