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The James VanDerZee Studio

Colin Westerbeck; Essay by Dawoud Bey

2004
Summary: 

From 1916 until 1969, James VanDerZee operated a portrait studio at various addresses in Harlem. In his heyday, from the 1920s through the 1940s, he took pictures of many of the neighborhood's prominent figures, including Marcus Garvey and Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., as well as members of the community's thriving middle class. The same year that he closed his last location, his work was featured in the controversial exhibition Harlem on My Mind at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The attention that this venue attracted finally brought VanDerZee, at age 83, the acclaim he deserved.

The companion publication to an Art Institute exhibition of the same title, this small book features essays by exhibition curator Colin Westerbeck and noted photographer Dawoud Bey, as well as rich, color reproductions of 20 of VanDerZee's signal images. VanDerZee's work has about it a playfulness and innocence (even when the subject is vampish, suave, or sophisticated) that reflects the spirit of an entire era of Harlem life. Like the images they explore, book and exhibition vividly evoke a bygone time—which is, after all, part of great photography's power.

The Art Institute of Chicago, 2004
9 1/2 x 8 1/2 in.; 36 pages; 23 illustrations
ISBN 0-86559-210-1