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Today happens to be the birthday of James VanDerZee. He was born this day in 1886. VanDerZee by Deborah Willis-Braithwaite is about the photography of this Harlem Renaissance artist who specialized in portraiture. As with many art books, it's both a biography and a collection of his most noteworthy pieces. The book contains reproductions of 200 of his photographs.
The problem with these types of books is finding a suitable balance between the life story and the artwork. Here the focus is primarily on the photography, meaning that most pages are dedicated to the reproduced artwork. I didn't come away feeling like I knew much more about the photographer after having finished the book as I did before I started.
I did though find it fascinating to see repeating motifs, mostly in the form of reused backdrops and props, that evolve over time as the popular style of the time changed. While some of his work was done on location, in the homes of his clients, many were done in his studio, with backdrops to give a domestic feel to the finished portrait.