August 25, 2016–April 1, 2017
At the height of the Harlem Renaissance, Carl Van Vechten (1880–1964) picked up a camera and discovered the power the photographic portrait has over the photographer himself. Over the decades, his fascination with the medium remained strong and he asked writers, musicians, athletes, politicians, and others to sit for him—many of them central figures in the Harlem Renaissance whose accomplishments fueled not only the New Negro movement but also transformed the broader American culture throughout the twentieth century. These groundbreaking men and women included James Baldwin, Ossie Davis, W.E.B. Du Bois, Ella Fitzgerald, Althea Gibson, Langston Hughes, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Bessie Smith, and others. Some of the portraits capture their subjects on the cusp of success as they were full of ambition but before they became famous; others depict men and women looking back on long and varied careers, tested by the fickleness of fortune.