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VanDerZee: Photographer 1886-1983

Apr 5, 1997 – May 18, 1997
Organized by the National Portrait Gallery, circulated by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, “VanDerZee: Photographer 1886-1983” explored the work of celebrated Black photographer James VanDerZee, who documented everyday sitters and celebrities alike during the Harlem Renaissance. VanDerZee is known for his traditional studio portrait photography; typically featuring ordinary individuals stylized as Hollywood celebrities, VanDerZee often retouched the negatives to create a sense of glamour in the final images. “VanDerZee” features over eighty prints from the photographer’s archives, allowing visitors to compare VanDerZee’s insider perspective of Harlem to the works by “outsider” photographers Aaron Siskend, Helen Levitt, and Carl van Vechten on display in “Three Views of Harlem.” While these photographers’ methods and subject choices may portray idealized or stereotyped views of the city corresponding to their own artistic motivations, “VanDerZee” is a celebration both of Harlem and the work of the photographer who sought to depict its strength and beauty.

Displayed in conjunction with “Aaron Siskend, Helen Levitt, and Carl van Vechten: Three Views of Harlem”.

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

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