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Aaron Siskend, Helen Levitt, and Carl van Vechten: Three Views of Harlem
Apr 5, 1997 – May 18, 1997
“Aaron Siskend, Helen Levitt, and Carl van Vechten: Three Views of Harlem” compares the images of three white photographers working during the Harlem Renaissance, both to each other and to Black contemporary James VanDerZee in the adjacent show “VanDerZee: Photographer 1886-1983.” Each of the three artists in the show took entirely different approaches to photographing Harlem. Socialist Siskend used his large-format camera to document the economic effects of the depression on Harlem’s urban environment, while Levitt worked at a Harlem school as an employee of the Federal Art Project, focusing on the aesthetic appeal of candid street scenes. Meanwhile, gay artist and civil rights activist van Vechten photographed the New York elite at his extravagant parties, treating Harlem as a sort of playground for his interests in literature and music; over five hundred examples of van Vechten’s work reside in Tulane’s archives, serving as a major source for the show. Seen together with “VanDerZee,” “Three Views of Harlem” gives viewers a glimpse into a multi-faceted Harlem, offering the interpretations of four photographers from vastly different backgrounds, as well as displaying the variety present amongst early photographic practices.
Accompanying lectures included Constructing the “New Negro: The Harlem Renaissance Years” by Donald DeVore, Executive Director, Amistad Research Center, Tulane University; “Colored Entrance Only” by Ellis Marsalis, Jazz pianist, Coca Cola Jazz Chair and Director, Jazz Studies Division, University of New Orleans; and “The Poetics of Direct Observation in the 1930s Harlem, Photographs of Helen Levitt and Aaron Siskind” by Jeff Rosenheim, Curatorial Assistant, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Department of Photography