Like a ghost, a woman appears in front of an old plantation house, holding a cast iron pan and wearing nothing but a white skirt with white baby shoes attached. Her semi-nudity, the marks of decay on the house, and the evening autumn light work together to form a haunting image that collapses time and space. Is it a memory or reality?
This photograph is part of Nona Faustine’s series White Shoes, in which she explores the hidden history of slavery in New York. Acknowledging the legacies of trauma and struggle that she carries as an African American woman, Faustine photographs herself in historically charged sites, evoking people who were enslaved, dehumanized, and objectified in anthropological photographs and exhibitions. This photograph conjures the presence of Isabelle, an enslaved woman listed in documents as property of the Lefferts, one of the largest slave-owning families of New York during the revolutionary era.