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A Monthly Culture Matrix For the Cosmopolitan Traveler

James Van Der Zee’s Photographs: A Portrait of Harlem


National Gallery of Art / Washington, D.C. / Art

In the 1920s and 30s, residents of Harlem went to James Van Der Zee’s 135th Street studio to memorialize special occasions. Van Der Zee opened the studio in 1916, inside his sister’s music conservatory. His subjects, often wearing formal attire—celebrating weddings and birthdays, or mourning the death of a loved one—were carefully staged with props, flowers, and period furniture. About 40 of these portraits, plus photographs of Harlem storefronts such as Club Liddo and Capital Grill, are on view. Van Der Zee was a leading light in the Harlem Renaissance, and included in this show are select photos from his tenure as the official photographer for Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association. —J.D.

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