Book Review: Harlem Street Portraits


When you think of New York, you often think of destinations: the Empire State Building, 42nd Street, the Statue of Liberty or Central Park. And while these are all great destinations and millions of photographs are made there every year, the true allure of Gotham lies in the neighborhoods and the people that work and live there.

One of the most iconic locations has to be Harlem, which has and continues to be the wellspring of many cultural influences including jazz, dance, rap, hip-hop and fashion. It’s been a visual magnet to many photographers including James Van Der Zee, Bruce Davidson, Jamel Shabazz and many others. One of those photographers is Harvey Stein whose latest monograph is Harlem Street Portraits.

The books consists of 166 black and white images that were produced over a span of 22 years during which time Harlem has experienced tremendous change. While commercial development and gentrification has changed many aspects of Harlem, Stein’s camera focuses on the men, women and children that have made this part of the city its own unique cultural experience.

With images produced using a 21mm lens, Stein creates intimate and insightful portraits of individuals and groups. Some of the photographs capture people as part of their everyday lives, while others seem to revolve around cultural or religious events. In all of these photographs, he produces street portraits that do more than just document a subject’s appearance, but also the relationship that friends and family have with each other on the public streets.

Stein, who has published other monographs focusing on Coney Island and Italy, is a photographer who aptly makes photographs that are not only beautiful, but that capture moments in time that will be invaluable to New Yorkers or those who will only discover the city through photographs.

For photographers who have a passion for documentary work, Harlem Street Portraits demonstrates how a commitment to a personal project can lead to a strong and important body of work.

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