James Van Der Zee (American, 1886-1983)
Gelatin silver print, Image: 14.1 x 11.3 cm (5 9/16 x 4 7/16 in.); Matted: 45.7 x 35.6 cm (18 x 14 in.). The Jane B. Tripp Charitable Lead Annuity Trust 1999.57
Commercial portrait photographers create images of people as they wish to be remembered. Most of the clients visiting Van Der Zee’s Harlem studio were upper- and middle-class African Americans who arrived in their most elegant clothing. The identities of the sitters in his two portraits on view here are unknown, but we can be confident that he made the movie-star-handsome young man and the sweetly smiling young lady look their best. Van Der Zee did not gain recognition from the art world until age 82 when his photographs were included in a 1969 exhibition about Harlem at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Cleveland Museum of Art (08/13/2017-12/31/2017): “From Riches to Rags: American Photography in the Depression”
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