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There is a bit of a puzzle to this image. If the woman on the right is holding the whip and reins, what is the role of the African American man in the photography? Only he faces our direction, but even he does not seem to meet our gaze. The whole composition seems a study in alienation. The three women do not interact at all, despite their proximity to one another: the one at the back looks down, the one in the middle looks off to the left, and the one with the whip and reins stares forward, as if ready to drive.

Perhaps the whole composition was meant as a little joke: that this rich, elegant woman would herself drive the oxcart, the most humble form of transportation, one step above a child’s goat cart. If so, then the black man would have been the real driver, who has stepped off for a moment for the photograph to be taken, but who stays in place just to be sure there is no mishap.