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Light & Dark

Portraits Of Distinguished African Americans

February–March 2019

Underwood & Underwood, Booker T. Washington, ​1906. Subject is seated at a desk, writing and looking down.
Doris Ulmann, James Weldon Johnson, ​c. 1925. Subject is seated at a desk, writing and looking to the left.
Carl Van Vechten, Langston Hughes, ​1932. Subject poses looking to the left beside a painting with the figure in the same pose.
David Attie, Lorraine Hansberry, ​c. 1960. Subject poses leaning against a desk with a close-up photograph of herself superimposed on the wall in the background.
Carl Van Vechten, Paul Robeson, ​1933. Subject smiles to the camera with torso facing left, a reflective material hangs to the left of the frame.
Wayne F. Miller, Willard Motley, ​1947. Subject looks into camera while holding a tall stack of papers.
Anthony Barboza, James Baldwin, Author, ​1975. Subject stands to the left side of a square frame, looking down and to the left. His shadow is cast to the right on the wall behind him.
Flip Schulke, Martin Luther King, Jr. Preaching at Ebenezer Baptist Church, ​1963. Subject is blurred in motion with hands gesturing in front of him.
Carl Van Vechten, Leontyne Price in Porgy & Bess, ​1953. Subject poses against a curtain with hands on hips, looking to the camera.
Carl Van Vechten, Avon Long as Sporting Life, Porgy & Bess, ​1942. Subject in a seated pose with legs crossed and hands on knee, looking down and to the right.
Carl Van Vechten, Geoffrey Holder, ​1954. Subject poses shirtless with one hand raised by his face, eyes cast downward.
Lucien Walery, Feral Benga Diptych, ​c. 1925. Two side by side photos of the shirtless subject, poses are facing each other.
Lucien Walery, Josephine Baker, c. 1925. Subject poses seated, topless, in large jewelry and feathers.
Alfredo Valente, Katherine Dunham, ​c. 1940. Subject is photographed leaning on one arm, looking into the camera.
Florence Homolka, Sammy Davis, Jr., ​c. 1960. Subject is blurred with motion, facing left and holding a microphone on a dark stage.
Florence Homolka, Sammy Davis, Jr., ​c. 1950. Subject faces left with head down on a dark stage.
Bob Willoughby, Louis Armstrong, ​1950. Subject is seen smiling in a mirror reflection, head turned to the right.
Gjon Mili, Pearl Primus, ​c. 1943. Subject crouches with eyes closed to the right of the foreground, while two male musicians look to her while playing drums in the background.
Bob Willoughby, Miles Davis, Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA, ​1950. Subject stands on stage playing the trumpet in front of a piano and other accompanying musicians.
Bob Willoughby, Lionel Hampton on Vibes, ​1956. Subject looks down while striking his instrument with another musician in the foreground.
Flip Schulke, Harry Belafonte, ​c. 1960. Subject stands on stage behind a microphone, smiling out towards his audience and the camera.
Bob Willoughby, Dorothy Dandridge, ​c. 1955. Subject is seated on a wooden crate backstage on film set, looking to the right.
Wallace Seawell, Nat King Cole, ​c. 1955. Subject is seated in a white suit at the piano in front of a mirror, gesturing and smiling towards the camera.
Chuck Stewart, Duke Ellington, ​1955. Subject smiles with eyes cast to the right, with one arm raised in front of his chest to reveal a heart-shaped cufflink.
Gordon Coster, Leadbelly, ​c. 1940. Subject holds a guitar and looks into the camera with a serious expression.
Wayne F. Miller, Billy Eckstine, ​1948. Subject is seated, smiling, at a club table with two other figures. A woman sings on stage in the background.
Carl Van Vechten, Dizzy Gillespie, ​1955. Subject is seated with arms crossed, smiling with eyes cast down to the left.
Anthony Barboza, Grace Jones, ​c. 1970. Close up of the subject's face looking into the camera.
Wallace Seawell, Diana Ross & The Supremes, ​1967. The three subjects pose in sparkling dresses against a striped wall with white balloons.
Anthony Barboza, Roberta Flack, Singer, ​c. 1970. Close up of subject's face with eyes closed and mouth slightly open.
Bob Willoughby, Lionel Hampton, ​1956. Subject is seated at a drumset on the right side of the frame, facing left and smiling.
Alfredo Valente, Ethel Waters, ​c. 1939. Subject looks up and to the right in a supplicating gesture with hands clasped by her chest.
Carl Van Vechten, Joe Louis, ​1941. Subject is in profile facing left, outdoors in direct sunlight.
Carl Van Vechten, Henry Armstrong, ​1937. Subject holds a boxing pose in front of a reflective backdrop.
Flip Schulke, Ali Underwater, ​1961. Subject holds a boxing pose, pictured in profile at the bottom of a swimming pool.
David Attie, Ralph Ellison in Harlem, ​1966. Subject poses on the street beside a barber shop, looking into the camera as various figures move around him.
United Press Photo, A Pitcher of Willie, ​1958. Subject holds his baseball bat at the ready as a baseball (out of focus in the foreground) flies toward him.
Flip Schulke, Little Willie John's 'Fever,' ​1956. Subject is photographed from above sitting on the hood of a car, smiling up at the camera.
Charlotte Brooks, Fats Domino, c. 1960. Subject sings into a microphone, blurred with motion, facing right.
Bob Willoughby, Folksinger Odetta, Tin Angel Nightclub, San Francisco, Calif., USA, ​1954. Subject sits holding a guitar and singing on stage in front of a piano marked "The Tin Angel"
Florence Homolka, Josephine Baker, ​c. 1958. Subject is pictured seated and smiling, looking off to the right.
George Hoyningen-Huene, Josephine Baker, ​c. 1929. Subject crosses her eyes and wears large hoop earrings, resting her chin on a black piece of furniture.
Alfredo Valente, Paul Robeson, 'Othello,' ​1939. Subject looks to the left with a serious expression.
Bob Willoughby, Big Jay McNeely, ​1951. Subject lays on stage mid-performance, playing the saxophone while emotional fans look on.

Press Release

Keith de Lellis Gallery presents a group exhibition of portraits depicting distinguished African American figures of the 20th century. Included are famed musicians, actors, writers, boxers, and more. These artists were photographed by noted documentary and portrait photographers, including Flip Schulke, Chuck Stewart, Carl Van Vechten, and David Attie.


While some photographs are immediately recognizable, such as Schulke’s Ali Underwater, others may be unfamiliar. Lesser-known photographs of Sammy Davis Jr., Booker T. Washington, and other figures offer a new perspective on these familiar faces. The group of studio and environmental portraits range from formally composed sittings to dynamic action shots. Bob Willoughby’s image of Lionel Hampton mid-concert captures the energy and joy of the performer fully absorbed in his music. An equal energy emits from a passionate scene in which Martin Luther King Jr. delivers a sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, photographed by Flip Schulke. Conversely, Chuck Stewart’s studio portrait of Duke Ellington shows a calm yet playful subject wearing his heart (in the form of cufflinks) on his sleeve.

The images also dramatically range in scale, from Van Vechten’s intimate postcards to Barboza’s striking exhibition prints. A small Underwood portrait of Booker T. Washington invites the viewer to look closely at the studious man at work, the format suggesting a cabinet card of sorts. Barboza’s large, close-cropped portraits of Roberta Flack and Grace Jones give the observer the opportunity to focus on the details of their dimly-lit faces.


The photographers share an array of personalities and experiences through these portraits. The dignity, elegance, and commitment to their craft of those pictured is palpable in these exceptional photographs.


Light & Dark will be on view at the Keith de Lellis Gallery through March 21, 2019.