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The collection consists primarily of portraits, including politicians, leading businessmen and educators, embassy officials and distinguished visitors from other countries, church leaders, athletes and entertainers, and members of Washington's Black middle class.
From his first year in business onwards, Bell regularly photographed Indigenous visitors to the capital, prompted by Ferdinand V. Hayden, director of the United States Geological Survey of the Territories. Bell also made photographs of Indigenous people for the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of American Ethnology, as well as for his own purposes.
Bell enjoyed a congenial business relationship with the Grover Cleveland presidential administration and made many portraits of Cleveland's bride, Frances Folsom Cleveland, after their marriage, as well as portraits at the second Cleveland inauguration.
Family portraits and portraits of individuals with their pets are also featured.
In addition to studio portraiture, Bell captured some street scenes and public events, such as openings of Congress, treaty signings, and parades. He also provided photographic copies of documents and works of art, and he produced architectural photographs, including major public buildings, residences, schools, and churches. Also included in the collection are scenic photographs along the Piedmont route of the Richmond and Danbury Railroad--photographs that were shown at the New Orleans Exposition in 1884-85.