James Van Der Zee (June 29, 1886 – May 15, 1983) was an African-American photographer best known for his portraits of black New Yorkers. He was a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Aside from the artistic merits of his work, Van Der Zee produced the most comprehensive documentation of the period. Among his most famous subjects during this time were Marcus Garvey, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and Countee Cullen.
Born and raised in Lenox, Massachusetts, VanDerZee obtained his first camera as a teenager and taught himself to take and develop photographs using family and friends as subjects. In 1905, he moved to New York and worked odd jobs for several years before becoming a darkroom assistant to a photographer in a Newark department store. VanDerZee quickly advanced from the darkroom to the portrait studio, and in 1911, his sister Jennie invited him to open a photography studio as an adjunct to the Toussaint Conservatory of Art and Music, which she operated out of her brownstone on 125th Street. In 1916, VanDerZee opened his own studio located at 109 125th Street, called the Guarantee Photo Studio (incorporated as the G.G.G. Photo Studio in 1928), and rapidly established himself as Harlem’s preeminent photographer.
Size: 6 x 10 1/4 inches
Publisher: Michael Rosenfeld Gallery
Publication Date: 2002