From photography’s beginnings in the United States, Black studio photographers operated on the developing edge of photographic media to produce beautiful portraits for their clients, while also making a variety of other photographic work in keeping with important movements like pictorialism, modernism, and abstraction. Black American Studio Photography illustrates the artistic virtuosity, social significance, and political impact of African American photographers working in commercial portrait studios during photography’s first century. The exhibition is among the first to focus exclusively on this national cohort of artists and entrepreneurs, while situating that group within a broader inclusive history of picture-making. Black American Studio Photography reframes the history of American photography by placing Black photographers and subjects at the center of that story, arguing for a reconsideration of how historians and institutions evaluate and display photography.

This exhibition brings together over 150 vintage photographs, many of them unique objects, from the nineteenth century to the present. Celebrating famous portrait photographers such as James Presley Ball, James Van Der Zee, and Addison Scurlock, this exhibition additionally brings attention to more than two dozen other photographers, including Arthur P. Bedou and Florestine Perrault Collins, Arthur L. Macbeth, Emmanuel F. Joseph, and more. Works by these and other artists illustrate how professional Black photographers were crucial to their communities’ efforts to represent themselves in the early twentieth century. Works by modern and contemporary photographers make clear the connection between the historical legacy of Black photography studios and what we consider to be art photography today.

Untitled (Bride and Groom)

1926

James Van Der Zee

Gelatin silver print

9 15/16 x 7 15/16 inches

Museum purchase, City of New Orleans Capital Funds and P. Roussel Norman Fund, 76.53