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Josephine and Langston and Malcolm

A Harlem album.

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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. Beyond that, there is no organizing principle, which is exactly the way the curators wanted it. “The choices in this volume were all about offering a wide variety of ways of looking and seeing and thinking,” says Studio Museum director and chief curator Thelma Golden. Inspired by family photos from her father’s Harlem childhood, Golden envisioned “an entry point for some people” and for others, “a family album that you haven’t seen in a long time.” Even when it comes to some of Harlem’s icons, the variety is telling. There are the pictures of Malcolm X addressing a crowd, but also intimate scenes in which Diana Ross and James Brown shed their public masks. Joe Louis, surrounded by cheering locals, peers coolly at the camera. And Langston Hughes stands, appropriately, on his own stoop—an architectural feature that serves, the book notes, as a “site of memory” in many Harlem photos. In a neighborhood that has symbolized so much—to people around the globe—the stoop was also a kind of threshold: between home and the larger world.


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