Time - 100 Photographs - The Most Influential Images of All Time - USA (2019)

(Antfer) #1


To many white Americans in the 1930s, black people
were little more than domestics or sharecroppers. They
were ignored, invisible, forgotten. But that was not what
James VanDerZee saw when he gazed through his camera
lens. Seeking to counter the degrading and widely dissemi-
nated caricatures of African Americans in popular culture,
VanDerZee not only photographed Harlem weddings, fu-
nerals, clubs and families but also chronicled the likes of
black nationalist Marcus Garvey, dancer Bill “Bojangles”
Robinson and the poet Countee Cullen—the leaders, art-
ists, writers, movers and strivers of the Harlem Renais-

sance. In his Guarantee Photo Studio and along the neigh-
borhood’s streets, VanDerZee crafted portraits that were
meticulously staged to celebrate the images his subjects
wanted to project. And nowhere is this pride more evident
than in his glowing picture of a handsome couple sporting
raccoon coats beside a Cadillac roadster. The posh back-
drop—props curated by VanDerZee—challenged popular
perceptions about race, class and success and became an
aspirational model for generations of African Americans
yearning for a full piece of the American Dream.


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