James Van Der Zee was Harlem's premier photographer during the Harlem Renaissance, when the Black community flocked to his studio for beautiful portraits that used props, painted backdrops and retouching to elevate the sitter.
The Massachusetts-born artist opened his first Harlem studio, Guarantee Photos, on 135th Street around 1915, before moving the renamed G.G.G. Photo Studio to Lenox Avenue, where he made his name taking pictures of families, performers, and athletes as well as local businesses and events for decades to come.
In 1969 he finally received pubic acclaim when the Metropolitan Museum of Art featured his work in the exhibition ''Harlem on My Mind" (it was the same year he was evicted from his studio, where he had lived and worked for all those years). Van Der Zee died in 1983.
Since then his monumental body of work chronicling Black life has been featured in a steadily growing number of museums and galleries. Last month the Met, working with the Studio Museum in Harlem, announced it was acquiring the archive of the famed photographer.
Remarkably, you can still find traces of his legendary studio in the heart of Harlem.
The ground-floor space, located in a brownstone at 272 Lenox Avenue near W 124th Street, stands even today, although it's occupied by a real estate office.
Take a look in the front and you'll see the faded but unmistakable G.G.G. Photo Studio sign—the first G is now missing—above the office's windows.