By Marty Gordon
A new book by Sarah Stacke, entitled “Photos Day or Night: The Archive of Hugh Mangum,” takes a look back at a historic photographer from our area. Mangum, who once had a photo studio in Radford, was from a prominent Durham family and traveled a rail circuit throughout North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia at the turn of the 20th century. During those travels, he took portrait photographs of a variety of people crossing racial barriers and telling their stories in his own special way.
Stacke, who is a photographer herself, was fascinated with the distinct characters in each of Mangum’s work.
The collection, which is housed at Duke University, is comprised of 688 photographs. Stacke said her experience with the Mangum photographs has evolved into a family album.
In a recent interview with NPR radio, she said as she sifted through the images from the late 1890s and early 1900s, familiar faces gazed back at her.
In the midst of the Mangum photo collection are pictures of Radford and Christiansburg. Apparently, Mangum kept a handwritten ledger of sorts on the inside of a trunk lid, which included the routes he travelled through North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.
But despite having the ledger, Stacke discovered a majority of the negatives/photographs lacked specific geographic identification.
One of the photographs included two women from Christiansburg. Stacke is hoping descendants can help identify the two, which are listed as “Mary and Kate Smith,” and tell their stories.
Mangum once operated a studio in East Radford and was married to Anne Carden, whose family resided in Radford. He was also a partner in photo studios in Pulaski and Roanoke.
According to research, Mangum photographs are distinctive “for the level of comfort” exhibited by the subjects. In the collection, there are a large number of “penny-picture camera” negatives that contain multiple images of numerous subjects.
Mangum was self-taught and originally from Durham, North Carolina, and according to the collection’s listing, maintained an early darkroom in his family’s tobacco pack house.
During his travels, he would purchase advertisement in local newspapers to tell families he was in town.
The majority of his subjects were white men and women, but Mangum also reached out to the African-American community.
The listing shows local landmarks like The Radford Trust building (constructed in 1891), the Carden family home in East Radford, and La Belle Inn, a hotel in Radford circa 1890s that once housed the State Normal School for Women.
There are also many buildings and street-fronts, along with chickens, horses and dogs. The last printed piece in the collection is Mangum’s body (1922) in an open casket.
A Hugh Mangum Museum of Photography is at West Point Park in Durham and displays many of his photographs.
If anyone knows more about the identity of the two women photographed in Christiansburg around April 1901, we would like to know about it. Please contact Marty Gordon at the email [email protected]