Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee!

By The Horn Book

One of the most memorable visual artists of the Harlem Renaissance was photographer James VanDerZee. In a picture-book biography that follows VanDerZee from his childhood interest in photography to his successful career in Harlem to his waning popularity to his rediscovery, Loney skillfully depicts his lifelong determination to capture the beauty of the people he saw around him. From his early years photographing his family in Lenox, Massachusetts, to his young adulthood working in Harlem, James took pictures to “share the beauty he saw in his heart.” His methods were ultimately successful, as multiple generations of people clamored for the artist to “take a picture of me, James VanDerZee!” Alongside the conversational text, Mallett’s illustrations depict the artist at work, his confident stance and expression conveying to readers that they are watching a true master. VanDerZee’s iconic photos, too, have been meticulously re-created in the illustrations, the yellow and brown tones lending themselves to the nostalgic feel. The back matter includes some of VanDerZee’s photographs themselves within an informative afterword that shows how he achieved his goal with techniques that were novel for their time (among them the use of various props and backgrounds, post-editing, and photomontage). Sources, a bibliography, and further reading are appended.