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James Van Der Zee

Portfolio of Eighteen Photographs (1905–38) captures the entire range of Van Der Zee’s works: early photographs of his time in Phoebus, Virginia, portraits of his family in Lenox, and images of cultural life in Harlem, including his well-known 1932 photograph of a couple, donning sumptuous fur coats and posing in front of their shiny Cadillac as well as Marcus Garvey with his militia. In fact, Garvey commissioned Van Der Zee to record the members and activities of the United Negros Improvement Association (UNIA) in 1924.

In his portraits, Van Der Zee sought to portray the beauty of each sitter, often employing painted backdrops, plush parlor furniture, and a variety of props, carefully posing each of his sitters. He also often retouched his negatives and sometimes incorporated photomontage into his studio practice.