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With few exceptions, scholars have long positioned James Van Der Zee as a singular phenomenon. Framing Van Der Zee as the only one—through the kind of selectivity and exceptionalism that drives art history—puts him on a deserved pedestal. But by rupturing this framework and suggesting a relational and network-based approach, chapter 1 shifts attention from how his talent and distinctiveness set him apart from others to how the presence of other photography studios became intrinsic to his becoming. This chapter illustrates that Van Der Zee's photographs were able to function to the extent that they did specifically because Van Der Zee was not the lone photographer in Harlem. Centering Black spaces and local photographers does more than highlight the role of photography within Black life. Doing so changes the structural ways that comparisons are made, and values predicated.

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