top of page


BLACK ART HISTORY!! down the rabbit hole 🐇🐇

James Van Der Zee was a Black photographer from the 1920s originally from the Berskshires (Lenox, MA to be exact) that eventually ended up in Harlem with his wife where they opened a photo studio space; this was during the height of The Harlem Renaissance where Black people were moving into the neighborhood in troves and opening businesses and becoming part of the Middle Class. Long story short, he shot portraits of said middle class Black Americans. He shot family portraits, weddings, street style shots, and people and organizations of prominence in the Black community.

He was also an early (idk if he invented it) innovator of different photography methods like overlays or drawing in things like necklaces or bracelets on to the women to make the imagery even more luxe, at times even adding in color.

Van Der Zee popularized funeral portraits where he would use his overlay technique to give comfort to the families that lost love ones to make it appear that they were in the hands of spirits (look them up they are creepily amazing).

He even shot marketing for a company in Harlem that had previously never hired Black people to work in their store which eventually ignited a boycott of their store (Located in the heart of Harlem) until they finally started to hire Black people for their buiness.

My point being: He was pretty fucking cool you guys.

xx A

**All photos by James Van Der Zee**

bottom of page