If there is one luminary among the greats of African-American photography (including the likes of; Gordon Parks, Carrie Mae Weems and Moneta Sleet Jr) it is James Van Der Zee that could be considered the “Father of the Form.” Van Der Zee was a major and respected force truly in all of American photography for the entirety of his professional career. He was part of and centered the Harlem Renaissance as he chronicled events and personal moments. The black & white images he captured and created are rich and rewarding.
Van Der Zee was primarily a portrait photographer. His subjects included the wealthy and famous along with local residents of New York’s Harlem. He showcased beauty, elegance and confidence in his subjects. He also; when he deemed necessary, used dark room techniques to enhance his pieces giving an artistic and many times haunting quality to the works. Van Der Zee was dedicated and wholly committed in the best traditions that he helped invent.
His subjects were always given his best accompanied with a sense of joy that remains evident in the work. Van Der Zee loved what he did with his life and work; it was his gift and we his beneficiaries; the recipient of those gifts. These things we treasure are the result of much work and calculation. Van Der Zee as all great artists’ made the results look easy but they come of course with the calculated effort of his eye and technical skill. Vander Zee is; the brilliant artist of “The Ages” of the eternal.