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April 25, 2021

Ella Fitzgerald Photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1940

Carl Van Vechten (June 17, 1880 – December 21, 1964) was an American writer and artistic photographer who was a patron of the Harlem Renaissance and the literary executor of Gertrude Stein. He gained fame as a writer, and notoriety as well, for his 1926 novel Nigger Heaven. In his later years, he took up photography and took many portraits of notable people.

In the early 1930s, Miguel Covarrubias introduced Van Vechten to the 35mm Leica camera. He began photographing his large circle of friends and acquaintances. His earlier career as a writer and his wife’s experience as an actress provided him with access to both fledgling artists and the established cultural figures of the time. Some of his subjects from this period include F. Scott Fitzgerald, Langston Hughes, Alfred A. Knopf, Bessie Smith, and Gertrude Stein.

Van Vechten did his own darkroom work, but frequently used an assistant to help set up lights for the portrait sittings. His portraits are frequently busts or half-length poses, in front of bold backdrops, as shown in these portraits of American jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald which he photographed in his studio in 1940.


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