Scraps in Black and White

Before U.S. copyright law was updated to include motion pictures in 1912, films had to be registered as giant collections of photographic prints, which turned out to be a blessing over the years as film stocks disintegrated but paper prints in the Library of Congress survived. This program collects reanimated paper prints that were shot between 1894 and 1915, and its early images of nonwhite peoples range from crudely staged narratives to documentary footage of Caribbean laborers. Some of the items (particularly the recordings of African-American dance troupes) are invaluable cultural documents, though others (like a watermelon-eating contest staged by the Edison Company in 1900) reveal more about the people behind the camera than the people in front of it.