Carl Van Vechten: Photographing the Harlem Renaissance and Beyond

A quick note on my first exhibition opening at the Museum of the City of New York: “Carl Van Vechten: Photographing the Harlem Renaissance and Beyond”. Below is the introductory text, contextualising the work of Van Vechten. The exhibition features ambient jazz music, and poetry from the Harlem Renaissance.


Bessie Smith, Museum of the City of New York

Bessie Smith,
Museum of the City of New York

During the first decade of the 20th century, African-American migrants began to Carl Van Vechten: Photographing the Harlem Renaissance and Beyond, features the photographs of Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964), a patron of the Harlem Renaissance. Van Vechten encouraged other New Yorkers to visit Harlem nightclubs; wrote the preface to poet Langston Hughes’s first book, The Weary Blues (1925); and promoted African-American performers. Van Vechten’s admiration for African-American culture and causes propelled him to document its artistic leaders through his photographs, a trove of which is held by the Museum of the City of New York. Van Vechten’s images of

African Americans, which he started to take in the early 1930s and which extend beyond the Harlem Renaissance, were part of his larger project to capture the people who defined New York’s dynamic culture. 

Carl Van Vechten: Photographing the Harlem Renaissance and Beyond

Me at the opening.

The Harlem Renaissance showed that art produced by African Americans had value, and that the writers, activists, authors, musicians, and consumers of the Harlem Renaissance could inspire people to follow in their footsteps. As author James Weldon Johnson wrote in his 1925 essay, Harlem: The Culture Capital, “In the make-up of New York, Harlem is not merely a Negro colony or community, it is a city within a city, the greatest Negro city in the world. It is not a slum or a fringe, it is located in the heart of Manhattan and occupies one of the most beautiful and healthful sections of the city.” This vision of Harlem as a capital of culture is not only reflected in the photography of Carl Van Vechten, but also in the lives of the people he photographed.

More on the MCNY’s website!

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