On Book: Ghosts in Plain View

An impressive new book gives a fresh look at familiar visuals by digging into their past. In Ghosts of Segregation, photographer Richard Frishman and writer B. Brian Foster go deep into American history through current photos and meditations on them. 

On March 9, the Whidbey Island-based photographer will talk about his book at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, in Langley

Some of the book’s photos appeared in a 2020 spread in the New York Times, here. Whidbey Island event tickets here


Ghosts of Segregation 

American history in stunning visuals.    
By Richard Frishman (photos) and B. Brian Foster (essays)
Macmillan (Celadon) (2024); 288 pages  

Times change, and so do places. Old scars and filled-in doors can look like simple remodels. New developments often hide what once was beneath. And, sometimes, things look exactly the same.

Each of these phenomena is well-represented in Ghosts of Segregation: American Racism, Hidden in Plain Sight. Released last month, the compelling new photo book is full of images both visually striking and seemingly mundane, animated and contextualized by the captions and essays that accompany them.

Locally-based photographer Richard Frishman, who lives on Whidbey Island, brought that lens to the national eye with a New York Times feature in 2020. Those pictures included one from right here in Seattle: the former “colored entrance” to the once-segregated upper balcony at the Moore Theatre, alongside its Black Lives Matter marquee. The prominent Downtown Seattle theatre’s side door, a bold black against the whitewashed facade, is unmarked and unassuming.

With historical context, the image of that old door alongside a modern message of solidarity is a stark juxtaposition and a bold statement. But with what message?

Ghosts of Segregation, a photo book by Richard Frishman with essays by B. Brian Foster, was released earlier this month. Frishman will speak at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts on 3/9.

Ghosts of Segregation doesn’t attempt to answer that in so many words. Instead, it lets viewers sit with the images and the history of the spaces they represent. It’s a theme that runs throughout the book.

Each jarring image or surprising context gently builds into larger questions. Among them: Is America’s segregation history best healed by removing its scars or confronting them? Of that history’s visual symbols: Should we keep them or cover them? Of a place’s painful past: Acknowledge it or downplay it?

Reconciliation happens when we finally move on from America’s proud racist past. But moving on requires acknowledging the gravity of that legacy in the first place, a likelihood that feels more distant now than ever. And it requires acknowledging its reach, something us PNW folks have never been too keen to do. Slavery, segregation, and racism? Not here.

And yet, documentarian-artists show us otherwise.


Tacoma-based singer-songwriter Stephanie Anne Johnson, who’s earned national attention as a finalist on The Voice and on other big stages, grappled with that Northwest divide in a recent song with their band the Hidogs. In live performances, Johnson introduces the song, “American Blues,” with a little bit of history of the town where they wrote it. Before becoming known as a theatre town, Ashland, Oregon was a “sundown town.” The irony of being there was not lost on Johnson (who’s also a theatre actor): invited to perform at the venerable Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Johnson once would have risked their life even being there after dark (“You been washed in my blood”).

Ghosts of Segregation adds powerfully to the tapestry of remembrance and reckoning. Essays by Foster work as standalone texts, connecting the reader with a sense of place in the South, drawing bridges between generations, weaving pride and tragedy, home and loss. It’s a connection of present and past, and it provides the all-important human context for the questions this book highlights. Foster is a professor of sociology who was raised in Mississippi and teaches in Virginia; his family roots and memories in the South run deep. His is a personal connection that colors the academic, just as his words color the images that surround them.

Plenty of Frishman’s photos are jarring without any words. The big old tree on the book’s cover, haunting and shadowy before a ghostly sky, is one of such photos. You already know why it’s there; and a caption inside the book confirms and quantifies that suspicion. More than 100 people were executed on that tree’s strong limbs, after perfunctory trials beneath its branches.

Other images reveal little without their context. Sometimes that’s because the place has been remade entirely, as in St. Louis where Busch Stadium now occupies the place of slave holding pens. Sometimes it’s because scars remain but look innocent enough, like a bold CHANGE etched on a building exterior, a remnant of a slave exchange at a grand hotel in New Orleans’ French Quarter; or a tower in Nevada that served as the former sundown town’s curfew alarm. Sometimes the passage of time on a natural landscape belies the human blood spilled there, as with the weathered, dusty barn where Emmett Till was tortured and murdered.

Many of these stories we’ve heard about as a distant part of history. Ghosts of Segregation keeps them connected, viscerally, to our own sense of place and time.


What name is there for this sort of violence? What do you call it when the road you walk on is named for those who imagined you under a noose?

— Clint Smith (How the Word Is Passed), quoted in Ghosts of Segregation (“Monuments”)

Remembering my memories means remembering that Black Americans are human, and beautifully so.

— B. Brian Foster, “Monuments” (Ghosts of Segregation)

Darling we miss you

— Inscription on the hand-carved gravestone for Charles Eddie Moore, kidnapped and murdered at age 19. A photo of Mr. Moore’s grave appears in Ghosts of Segregation (“Remainders”).

Ghosts of Segregation is available at booksellers, including Third Place Books ($50); book info here. See images and backstory from the book here

Richard Frishman will discuss Ghosts of Segregation at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, part of the Whidbey Repertory Festival (a collaboration with the Island Shakespeare Festival). Ticket options include pay-what-you-choose tickets at the door; advance tickets and event info here.

Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.