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People of African Descent

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Robert S. Duncanson, Owl's Head Mountain, 1864 and Doris Ulmann, Portrait of a Girl, c. 1930

Compare the mood and atmosphere in these works.

Both of these works, although technically different, depict a soft-focus atmosphere that is highly symbolic.

Duncanson's vision of this typically Canadian landscape is very utopian, expressed through his use of warm colours and light. It presents a poetic mood of tranquillity and peace. Many of Duncanson's epic landscapes are inspired by literature, such as Land of the Lotus Eaters (1861). The mountain and surrounding hills are bathed in the russet light of sunset, with clouds and mirror-like lake reflecting the pastel shades of a summer evening. The physical features of the site take second place to the artist's vision of calm contentment. As with many nineteenth-century landscape paintings, Duncanson's work can be understood on many levels. His idealized vision of the land is infused with symbolic references that make it an image of paradise, an Eden - a safe haven - far removed from the realities of life during the American Civil War.

Ulmann' s work although documentary in style, has a very dream like mood. The photograph is quiet and pensive, and the young girl looks back over her shoulder while drenched in a column of shadow flanked by two patches of shining light - a metaphor for the change in social status and rite of passage for Gullah children of this age. This mood is also enhanced by the photographer's choice of the platinum printing process, which produces a wide range of soft grey tones (in comparison with the darker greys of the silver print). The platinum process is also characterized by a matte, non-reflective surface, which in this work enhances the dreamy atmosphere of the image.