James Van Der Zee’s Harlem Photographs 1915-1960 is a unique photographic document of African-American life in Harlem. Van Der Zee’s images present such a compelling view of their place and their time that upon seeing them it becomes difficult to imagine Harlem though another lens.
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Harlem Photographs 1915-1960’s is the perfect introduction to one of the most important American photographers of the 20th century—James Van Der Zee. The book is a fresh take on Van Der Zee that will do much to make the photographer’s work accessible to a wide audience.About the Author:
In 1915, James Augustus Joseph Van Der Zee set up a small portrait studio at a music conservatory in Harlem. Within three years, Van Der Zee had raised the money to launch the Guarantee Photo Studio, where he photographed Harlem’s burgeoning middle class for the next three decades. Among his more renowned subjects during the period were poet Countee Cullen, Father Divine, dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, and the revolutionary Marcus Garvey. Van Der Zee worked predominantly in the studio and used a variety of props, including architectural elements and painted backdrops. In addition to his studio portraits, he photographed a wide cross section of groups that formed the basis of African American social life, including clubs, church groups, sports teams, family gatherings, barbershops and pool halls. After World War II, Van Der Zee’s fortunes declined with those of Harlem. Although he continued to make ends meet through commissions and a photo restoration sideline, by the time his collection of negative and prints was discovered by a representative of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1967, Van Der Zee was nearly destitute. However, in early 1969, Van Der Zee’s photographs were featured in the museum’s highly successful "Harlem on My Mind." Through exposure generated by the exhibition, Van Der Zee again won increasing attention throughout the 1970’s. From late in that decade until his death in 1983, he photographed another generation of African Americans, including Bill Cosby, Muhammad Ali, and Lou Rawls.
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