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Dawoud Bey's portraits of Harlem are at the heart of the photographer's new show at the Whitney

Dawoud Bey, A Boy in Front of the Loew’s 125th Street Movie Theater, Harlem, NY, 1976

Dawoud Bey has spent that last 45 years capturing intimate portraits of Black America in communities from Brooklyn to Birmingham, Alabama.

But Harlem is at the heart of "Dawoud Bey: An American Project," the photographer's new retrospective on view at the Whitney though October 3.

Born in Queens, Bey began his career in the mid-1970 with a series called "Harlem, U.S.A" focused on the residents of Harlem (it's where his parents met and many friends lived).

Dawoud Bey, Three Women at a Parade, Harlem, NY, 1978

Shot mostly on the streets, the images include portraits of sunglass-wearing boys, local barbers and behatted ladies that capture the neighborhood in a loving photographic embrace.

Bey later traveled farther afield to D.C., Chicago and Birmingham—there he commemorated the 50th anniversary of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church—but returned to Harlem for a second series, "Harlem Redux," to capture its changes.

The signs of gentrification will be as familiar to longtime Harlemites as the neighbors in the earlier portraits. But it's the images from the '70s that have lasting power.

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