Black History Trailblazers and Changemakers 2020--DAY 15: James Van Der Zee

James Van Der Zee was a photographer (1886–1983) born in Lenox, Massachusetts He was the second of six siblings all of whom loved learning. He began playing the piano and violin at an early age. Later he fell in love with photography and began taking pictures for his high school.

 James and his brother, Walter, went to Harlem, New York, in 1906 and once there,  held jobs as a waiter and elevator operator. He married his first wife, Kate Brown in 1907 and they moved to Virginia, where Van Der Zee did photography work for the Hampton Institute.
For a few years, Van Der Zee used his musical talent to perform with Fletcher Henderson's Band and the John Wanamaker Orchestra. He even taught piano and violin for a while, but photography called to him again and he opened his own Harlem studio in 1916.
With the Harlem Renaissance in full swing during the 1920s and '30s, and for decades, Van Der Zee would photograph Harlem residents of all backgrounds and occupations. Although he shot many celebrities, it was his photos of Harlem's growing African American middle class for which he is most remembered.

Lady with wide-brimmed straw hat, 1934
He would sometimes provide props and costumes and patiently pose his subjects.
Other times he would create special effects in his darkroom, such as he did in the 1920 photograph below titled "Future Expectations (Wedding Day)," a young couple is presented in bride and groom finery, with a ghostly, transparent image of a child at their feet.
Studio portrait of young man with telephone

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