This woman appears to be not only of androgynous character but also of mixed race. The mystery of her origins and sexuality seems appropriate for one who practiced curing and conjuring with the help of herbal recipes. Doris Ulmann may have created this portrait for Julia Peterkin’s novel Roll, Jordan, Roll (1933) (https://primo.getty.edu); the herbalist was a powerful figure in the black quarter of Peterkin’s family plantation Lang Syne. Although her glance seems to indicate that she has been encountered while casually tending plants on her porch, this subject was arranged by Ulmann in at least six other poses, sometimes accompanied by a young black boy, usually in more dilapidated surroundings.
Judith Keller. Doris Ulmann, In Focus: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1996), 60. ©1996, J. Paul Getty Trust.