Simpson has collected large numbers of historical images of unidentified African Americans posing for photo-booth portraits and integrated them into a series of multipart pieces. For this unique installation, Simpson recombines three of these works into one large arrangement.
The photo booth debuted in New York City in 1925, quickly becoming a popular form of entertainment while also serving as a practical and inexpensive way for people to make images of themselves. Coinciding with the mass availability of this new technology was the “Great Migration” of an estimated two million African Americans from the southern states to the industrialized North, an exodus driven by a search for employment opportunities and escape from the overt racism of the South. In this context, private photo-booth portraits take on greater cultural significance, as many were carefully crafted messages sent back home to loved ones. While the portraits are captivating, the lack of information and personal detail about the sitters can be heartrending. This sense of a missing history is reinforced by the shadow images interspersed among the photographs. Simpson has compared these to the paper residue found in old photo albums where images have been torn out.