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Harlem: A Century in Images Hardcover – October 19, 2010
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“Harlem: A Century in Images (Skira Rizzoli, $55), the Studio Museum in Harlem’s broad and beautiful new photographic survey of the neighborhood, has a narrative only in the literal sense: It documents 100 years of urban churn in a vitally important neighborhood.” ~New York Magazine
“Harlem with and intro by Thelma Golden ($55.00, 256 pages) brings back a century of images, some poignant, some stirring, some historical, all moving.” ~Global Writes
“…provides an intimate look at some of the greatest icons in Black history of the past century in one of the most iconic of locales: Harlem… this book supplements the stories through nearly 200 stark, powerful pictures of the famous as well as everyday people in this legendary, culturally-rich pillar of New York…. Add Harlem: A Century in Images to your personal collection. It doesn’t disappoint.” ~Ask A Woman Who Knows
About the Author
Thelma Golden is director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem.
Deborah Willis is a professor of Africana studies at New York University.
Cheryl Finley is associate professor of art and African American studies at Cornell University.
Elizabeth Alexander is an American poet, essayist, and professor.
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In reading through the book, I found a sense of continuity and identity more than a feeling of change. Looking at the people, the streets, and the landmarks, I had a feeling of a frozen moment in time with scenes from the 1920s, for example, recognizable in scenes from the 1990s. The book has a strong sense of place in capturing an image of Harlem through diversity.
The photographs illustrate the broad, varied scope of Harlem life. They include scenes of famous musicians, ranging from Theolonius Monk to Dianna Ross, artists, such as photographer James VanDerZee, athletes, including Jack Johnson and Joe Louis, writers, such as Langston Hughes, and political leaders ranging from Marcus Garvey to Malcolm X. The book includes scenes of high life and lavish entertainments together with scenes of pool halls and graffiti. The people of Harlem, of every economic class and in almost every circumstance, tend to dress up in what the book quotes Zora Neale Hurson describing as "decorating the decoration" and in what young Harlemites describe by the phrase "you're so extra". The photographs also include scenes of poverty and abysmal living conditions. There are scenes of street life and of life inside homes, stores, churches, theaters. There are children and elderly, solitary individuals, families, and large groups. Photographs of political rallies are juxtaposed with photos of weddings and leisure activities. Some of the photos or by little known photographers. Many famous photographers have lived in or worked in Harlem over the years, and they are well-represented in this collection. The volume includes many photos by include James VanDerZee, Aaron Siskind, Weegee, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Gordon Parks, and others. Some photographs are panoramic and spread over two pages while others occupy a single page down to about 1/4 page. Reproductions are clear. With the exception of some of the more recent photographs, the collection is in black and white. Captions and in many instances explanatory texts accompany the photographs.
The photographs are easily the primary attraction of the volume, but the book also includes valuable essays. Thelma Gordon, Director of the Studio Museum, offers an introduction to Harlem and the photographs. The photographs are arranged chronologically in four large sections each of which begins with an introductory essay. Thus Guggenheim and MacCarthur Fellow Deborah Willis contributes an essay "Harlem Seen" to the first part of the book covering Harlem through about the mid-1940's. Cheryl Finley, Professor of Art History at Cornell, introduces the section of the volume covering "Harlem at Mid-Century". Elizabeth Alexander, Chair of the Department of African-American Studies at Yale, carries Harlem's photographic story through from 1970 to the end of the 20th Century and beyond.
Taken as a whole, the volume offers an almost timeless picture of Harlem and of the character it has assumed in the minds of Americans of every background. Readers interested in Harlem, American urban history, or urban photography will love this book. Readers interested in a history of Harlem as well as photographs may wish to read "Harlem: The Four Hundred Year History from Dutch Village to Capital of Black America" by Jonathan Gill. Harlem: The Four Hundred Year History from Dutch Village to Capital of Black America.