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Harlem: The Vision of Morgan and Marvin Smith

by Morgan Smith and Marvin Smith

Availablecloth$49.95s 978-0-8131-2029-4
184 pages  Pubdate: 11/13/1997  10 x 13  photos

In 1933, Morgan and Marvin Smith, twin sons of sharecroppers from Kentucky, arrived in Harlem. Despite the hardships of the Great Depression, they found a flourishing arts community and quickly established their place as visual chroniclers of the life of the city. For thirty years, the Smiths used their cameras to record the achievements of blacks in the face of poverty and discrimination. Rejecting the focus on misery and hopelessness common to Harlem photographers of the time, they documented important "firsts" for the city's blacks (the first black policeman, the first black women juror), the significant social movements of their day (anti-lynching protests, rent strikes, and early civil rights rallies), as well as the everyday life of Harlem, from churchgoers dressed for Easter to children playing in the street. The Smiths' photography and art studio was next to the famed Apollo Theatre, and it became a required stop for anyone making a pilgrimage to the community. There and elsewhere the Smiths photographed actors, musicians, dancers, artists, athletes, politicians, businessmen, and educators. They captured Maya Angelou early in her career as a Primus dancer, W.E.B. DuBois recording a speech in their sound studio, Joe Louis at his training camp, Jackie Robinson teaching his young son to hold a baseball bat, Nat King Cole dancing at his wedding, Billie Holiday singing for friends, Josephine Baker distributing candy to children, and many other prominent figures at significant and ordinary moments of their lives. Drawn from the collection of the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture and the Smith family archives, Harlem reproduces nearly 150 photographs by these important artists and chroniclers, bringing to life a vital community of great cultural, political, and economic achievement. Morgan Smith died in 1993. Marvin Smith died in 2003.

Usually when people think of great Harlem photographers the first name that comes to mind is James VanDerZee . . . . That will change with the publication of this excellent photo collection. -- BookPage

Passing by their camera are treasured studies of a people in transit, reforming themselves. They show us the individual at their journey for dignity. -- Chester Higgins Jr.

Basic to any understanding of the real and complete Harlem as the world center for all of Black America. -- Elizabeth Catlett

They compiled a pictorial record of an era marked by chaos. They caught the smell of the streets, and they showed the social and political change that took place within Harlem's black intelligentsia. -- Gordon Parks Sr.

The book, lovingly produced, with essays by Gordon Parks Sr. and James A. Miller and a wealth of historical information, is a beauty. -- New York Times

Their photos not only reveal the dignity and humanness of their subjects but also their vision of Harlem, themselves, and the world. -- North Carolina Historical Review

A delight for anyone interested in American and African-American life in the 1930s to the 1950s. -- Photograph Collector

Contains close to 150 strikingly elegant images of the ordinary and famous individuals who made Harlem the center of black achievement and culture in the United States. -- Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

We open this book, we walk inside these pages, and we are home. -- Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis

Winner of the 1997 Small Press Book Award for Photography.

winner of the 1997 Small Press Book Award for Photography