Take a peek at legendary Harlem photographer James Van Der Zee's glamour shots of African Americans

Updated: Mar 18


It's an opportunity that doesn't come around every day: a treasure trove of vintage portraits by legendary Harlem photographer James Van Der Zee is now up at the Howard Greenberg Gallery.

A photographer who opened his first studio in Harlem in 1918, Van Der Zee became one of the neighborhood's most sought-after photographers during the Harlem Renaissance.

Using painted backgrounds and props, he took glamorous shots of ordinary African Americans–from schoolgirls to newlyweds–and plenty of prominent subjects as well, including civil rights activist Marcus Garvey and entertainer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.

Towards the end of his career Van Der Zee's images finally caught the attention of major institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and, posthumously, the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C.

The first show of Van Der Zee's work in New York in more than 15 years, this gallery exhibit features 55 photographs–mostly studio portraits, but also a few street scenes–spanning the 1920s through the 1950s.

James Van Der Zee: Studio is at the Howard Greenberg Gallery through April 27.

All images © Donna Mussenden Van Der Zee, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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