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Carl Van Vechten’s Studio

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Lit Nerd Wednesday!

He may sound unfamiliar today but do an image search by his name and his subjects will look very recognizable. Actors, musicians and writers spanning three decades were his frequent muses, photographed in his trademark style — his use of light and shadow as well as body positions were a consistent theme in every photo. Not a bad second career for a writer.

Carl Van Vechten was born in Cedar Rapids Iowa and graduated from the University of Chicago in 1903. He moved to New York City in 1906 where he worked as a music critic for the The New York Times taking a brief sabbatical to study opera in Europe. Upon returning he gravitated from writing critical essays to novels that chronicle the Jazz Age such as The Splendid Drunken  TwentiesFirecrackers: A Realistic Novel, Excavations, Spider Boy and Parties. He delved into the burgeoning Harlem Renaissance becoming friends and promoting writers like Ethel Waters, Langston Hughes and Richard Wright.

By the start of the 1930s and at age 50, Vechten was done with writing and took up photography using his apartment at 150 West 55th Street as a studio. In addition to Waters, Hughes and Wright frequent visitors included Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Frida Kahlo, Salvador Dali and Georgia O’Keefe to name just a few.

 

Who: Carl Van Vechten

Where: 150 West 55th Street

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