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.
Josephine Baker, 1950 Photograph by Eve Arnold At the Roxy on a comeback tour after finding fame in a more tolerant Europe. The next year, Baker would famously take on the Stork Club for refusing her service. There would also be a 100,000-strong neighborhood parade on the NAACP-declared Josephine Baker Day: May 20, 1951. Photo: Magnum Photos
Malcolm X, 1965 Photograph by Bob Adelman Malcolm X addresses a rally on Lenox Avenue not long before his assassination. Photo: Magnum Photos
Joe and Marva Louis, 1935 Unknown photographer The boxer and his wife taking an impromptu stroll. Three years later, hundreds would gather in front of the Hotel Theresa to celebrate his world-championship victory over Max Schmeling. Photo: New York Times/Redux
Marcus Garvey Riding in a Parade, 1922 Unknown photographer When this photograph was first published, the caption noted that the “giant parade through Harlem ” opened the annual World Convention in New York, by the Universal Negro Improvement Association. This organization is behind the “Back to Africa Movement.’” Photo: Underwood & Underwood/Corbis
James Brown, 1968 Photograph by Eve Arnold The singer being interviewed at the Apollo. He would have had a lot to talk about, including his hair, which he was no longer straightening. The same year saw the release of his “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud),” a defining song of the Black Power movement. The phrase “black is beautiful” may also have been introduced at the concert. Photo: Magnum Photos
Diana Ross, 1965 Photograph by Bruce Davidson Ross backstage at the Apollo among her shoes, furs, and gowns. Ross was two years into her role as the lead singer of the Supremes and still several years away from launching her solo career. Photo: Magnum Photos