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James Van Der Zee
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Photographer
    (June 29, 1886-May 15, 1983)
    Born in Lenox, Massachusetts
    Birth name was James Augustus Joseph Van Der Zee
    Prominent work is featured in 'The Harlem Book of the Dead' (1978)
    Best known for his work documenting everyday life in Harlem, New York City
    He was divorced.
    His name sounds like that of Dawson's Creek heartthrob, James Van Der Beek.
    His specialty were funeral photographs (depressing...)
    He said 'I tried to see that every picture was better-looking than the person.' 'I had one woman come to me and say 'Mr.Van Der Zee my friends tell thats a nice picture, But it doesn't look like you.' That was my style.'
    He tended to use special effects in his photos to make awkward points (ex. fixing the transparent image of a child at the bottom of a couple's wedding photo and calling it 'Future Expectations').
    His focus was the black middle class, but racist notions generally lead to the assumption that if his focus was Harlem, he photographed the poverty-stricken lower class.
    His career waned when personal cameras came into wide use.
    His financial woes got to be so bad that he and his wife were evicted from their Harlem studio.
    He filed a suit to reclaim more than 50,000 images from the Studio Museum of Harlem, the rights to which he had signed away after his eviction (1981).
    He developed an interest in photography by taking photos for his High School.
    He was good friends with Toni Morrison, who would write the forward for 'Harlem Book of the Dead.'
    He made it his life's work to project the African American community in a positive and optimistic light.
    He was a pioneer in the retouching of images and the use of double exposures.
    His career spanned over seventy years, and he died only less than four years short of 100.
    He photographed a virtual 'whose who' of contemporary black celebrities, including Marcus Garvey, Florence Mills, Hazel Scott, Paul Robeson, Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Bill Cosby, Countee Cullen, Lou Rawls, Cicely Tyson and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
    He received an honorary doctorate from Howard University shortly before his death (1983).
    He received a Living Legacy Award from President Jimmy Carter.
    He became a permanent fellow of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
    His lawsuit was settled posthumously, with the courts awarding half of his photographs to his estate, while the remaining photos remained in the Harlem Museum.

Credit: BoyWiththeGreenHair


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