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June 29, 1886 James Van Der Zee, Harlem Renaissance photographer, was born in Lenox,
June 29, 1886 James Van Der Zee, Harlem Renaissance photographer,
Massachusetts. As a child, Van Der Zee learned piano, violin, and art. He received his first camera at the age of 14 from a magazine promotion. After moving to New York City, Van Der Zee worked as a darkroom technician at a department store. In 1917, he opened his own studio, Guarantee Photography, and was immediately successful. In 1932, he outgrew his first studio and opened the larger GGG Studio. During the Great Depression, when demand for professional photographs was reduced, Van Der Zee supported himself by shooting passport photographs and other photographic jobs. Van Der Zee photographed many famous individuals, including Marcus Garvey, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, and Countee Cullen. His work was featured in the 1969 “Harlem on my Mind” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His complete collection totaled 75,000 photographs. Van Der Zee received the Living Legacy Award from President Jimmy Carter in 1978 and an honorary doctorate degree from Howard University in 1983. Van Der Zee died May 15, 1983. Biographies of him include “The World of James VanDerZee” (1969) and “James VanDerZee” (1973). Van Der Zee’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.
JAMES VAN DER ZEE