Monday, July 29, 2019

Mystery photographer revealed

Cover the journal El Escribano, Vol 53, showing a 1920s portrait of a young woman
A brief biography of R.A. Twine is featured in the Saint
Augustine Historical Society's journal, El Escribano 2016,
published in 2018. One of Twine's photos is on the cover.
Back in 2017, I  wrote about African-American Catholic photographer Richard Aloysius Twine after discovering his amazing 1920s photographs in Florida Memory's online Twine Photographic Collection.

The sharply dressed young man visually catalogued residents of St. Augustine's Lincolnville neighborhood in the early 20th century. He  photographed portraits, groups, community gatherings, and class outings and other scenes revolving around St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Church and School life.

I wrote a two-part post: the first about Twine and the second about St. Benedict the Moor School, which Twine attended. But information about Twine was sparse. I wanted to know more about the photographer and his later years. Did he move away? Die young? I even titled the first part of the post "Gifted Photographer a Mystery Man."

Imagine my delight, then, when I received Volume 53 of El Escribano, The St. Augustine Journal of History, in 2018. The entire issue is devoted to the photography of Twine and his near contemporaries, Hugo and Earnest Meyer.

First, I'm happy to say Twine didn't die young. He moved north, as did many people of color in that era, but he also moved farther south.

Black and white portrait of photographer Richard Aloysius Twine
Richard Aloysius Twine 
Thanks to a brief biography about Twine in Volume 53 of El Escribano, I'm now able to share more details. The bio was written by Dr. Patricia Griffin and Diana Selsor Edwards, with editing by Robert Nawrocki. I recommend you find this issue of the journal if possible and read the entire thing and enjoy the photographs reprinted in it. The issue is titled El Escribano 2016 but it was published in 2018. One of Twine's portraits, depicting a young woman, is featured on the cover. The journal is a project of the Saint Augustine Historical Society. Contact the historical society's Research Library to learn where you can access a copy.

Here, from the biography, are some excerpts and points of interest about Twine's life:

  • He was born in St. Augustine in 1896 to former slave David Twine, who fought for the Union in the Civil War, and Harriett Bronson Twine, believed to have also been a former slave.
  • Many family members were devout Catholics. 
  • Twine moved to New York in 1916 but returned to St. Augustine about five years later and opened a photography studio.
  • Twine was interested in filmmaking, and also was a playwright who staged theatricals with like-minded friends at St. Benedict the Moor Church.
  • He operated his St. Augustine photography studio for only a handful of years - less than five. Several family members had scattered, and he followed some of his siblings to Miami, where they had opened a restaurant.
  • The Great Depression ended Twine's photography, film, and theater dreams. He spent his later working years managing a hotel and boarding house.
  • He never married.
  • Twine died in Miami in 1974. He was 78. He's buried in San Lorenzo cemetery in St. Augustine.
I can't find a better tribute than this one written in the biography: "Richard Twine's public legacy is enduring in his Lincolnville photographs." His images offer viewers "... an intimate sense of people whose lives would otherwise have been lost to recorded history." (Page 11). 

So true. The photos and the biography do even more, though, in my opinion. They give us a glimpse into the man who was Richard Aloysius Twine, who also would have been lost to history. And they leave me, again, wanting to know more.

Read the related 2017 posts: Part 1 and Part 2

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