Feb 13, 2008

Portrait of a Standing Woman

Portrait of a Standing Woman

c. 1937–43

James Van Der Zee

(American, 1886–1983)

Gelatin silver print

Image: 11.7 x 8.8 cm (4 5/8 x 3 7/16 in.); Paper: 12 x 9.1 cm (4 3/4 x 3 9/16 in.)

The Jane B. Tripp Charitable Lead Annuity Trust 1999.73


Did you know?

James Van Der Zee, himself an accomplished musician, set up his first photo studio in 1916 in his sister's music conservatory.


For more than 50 years, James Van Der Zee produced images that embody the spirit of Harlem. From the 1920s to the 1940s, he was the neighborhood's most popular and prolific photographer, his camera capturing everyone from ordinary citizens to celebrities. On location, he chronicled picnics, parades, families, church congregations, and the dead in their coffins. In the studio, Van Der Zee photographed glamorously dressed young people and dignified men and women posed before elaborate backdrops and surrounded by accessories that reinforced their associations with culture and wealth. The artist worked with a variety of techniques, including multiple negatives and hand coloring, to make artful photographs that set him apart from his more traditional, less aesthetically inclined competitors. Just as he often signed his name and date directly onto the negative, he would also selectively draw on it—to smooth a complexion and touch up imperfections, or to add extra jewelry or smoke drifting from a cigarette—whatever was necessary to emphasize the grace and dignity of his client, regardless of race, age, or social status.

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