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Harlem Renaissance Photo Exhibit Opens at Dorsky Museum: "The Photographs of James Van Der Zee" on view through November 23

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NEW PALTZ -- "The Photographs of James Van Der Zee," an exhibition of sensitive and moving images documenting the Harlem Renaissance during 1920's and 1930's, will open at the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at SUNY New Paltz on October 15th. This exhibition is held to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the publication of The Souls of Black Folk, by W.E.B. Dubois. Dubois is also the subject of a conference on October 24th sponsored by SUNY New Paltz Office of Student Advising.

Image available at over 60 years, African American photographer James Van Der Zee (1886-1983) worked in obscurity at his "Guarantee Photo" studio as he made a visual record of life in a place he loved New York City's middle-class Harlem neighborhood. Van Der Zee was foremost a studio photographer, capturing his sitters at their best and forging through the centuries of negative stereotyping and derogatory images of people of color.

His photographs, unsurpassed in scope and detail, capture the likes of both the famous and the ordinary residents of this community. Heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, the Reverend Adam Clayton Powell Sr., entertainers Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, singers Florence Mills and Mamie Smith all appeared before Van Der Zee's lens.

Whether his sitters were famous or unknown, Van Der Zee treated them with great respect. His elaborate backdrops and scenery created a stage where his subjects were many times posed in poetic situations: young children dressed and set up as bride and groom; or a seated woman, nude, looking into a fake fireplace. In addition to his portraits, Van Der Zee photographed interiors, clubs, sports teams, church groups, parades, barber shops, pool halls, street scenes and funerals all with great pride and fascinating beauty.

Van Der Zee's meticulous darkroom techniques allowed him to not only present his community at its best for posterity, but to add a psychological and ethereal dimension to many of his everyday images. Photomontage - multiple images in one picture - was a technique Van Der Zee developed in his work. At times he incorporated separate images of deceased family members above funeral scenes or into wedding portraits. "I wanted to make the camera take what I thought should be there," said Van Der Zee.

The thirty-three photographs in this exhibition, selected by Neil Trager, director of the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, are on loan from the Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York City.

A reception for the exhibition will take place in the West Wing gallery at the Samuel Dorsky Museum on Saturday, October 18 from 5:00 - 7:00 p.m. The photographs will be on exhibit through November 23. Museum hours are Wednesdays 1:00 - 8:00 p.m. and Thursdays through Sundays 1:00 - 5:00 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and all university and national holidays. Additional museum information may be obtained by calling 845-257-3844 or on the Web:

The web address for images is:

For additional information about the W.E.B. DuBois conference, call 845-257-3015.


The State University of New York at New Paltz is an institution of nearly 8,000 students located in the Mid-Hudson Valley halfway between New York City and Albany. It offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the liberal arts and sciences, which serve as a core for professional programs in the fine and performing arts, education, healthcare, business and engineering. More information about SUNY New Paltz is available online at