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Series IV: Photographs, 1932–1964

Call Number: JWJ MSS 1050, Series IV

Scope and Contents

Photographs of African Americans chiefly created by Carl Van Vechten, 1932-1964, which include portraits as well as related images of events, places, and artwork. The expressions of dates for photographic prints in this document the time of image capture rather than the creation of the prints.

Van Vechten presented his photographs across a range of print sizes usually with a "portrait" orientation. These prints range in measurements from approximately 10 inches by 8 inches (25.4 centimeters by 20.32 centimeters) to oversize prints between 10 inches by 8 inches (25.4 centimeters by 20.32 centimeters) and 14 inches by 11 inches (35.56 centimeters by 27.94 centimeters) as well as photographic postcards 5.5 inches by 3.5 inches (13.97 centimeters by 8.89 centimeters). He also created 35-millimeter color slides in cardboard mounts that measure 2 inches by 2 inches (5.08 centimeters by 5.08 centimeters).

Portraits document Van Vechten's friendships and acquaintances with writers, artists, musicians, singers, actors, social activists and other members of the African-American community in New York City, and throughout the United States and abroad.

A group of images documents the Stage Door Canteen (American Theatre Wing) during World War II in the basement of the 44th Street Theatre at 216 West 44th Street in New York City. The canteen offered servicemen nights of free dancing, entertainment, food, and nonalcoholic drinks as well as opportunities to rub shoulders with celebrities that volunteered at it. Van Vechten also created tableaus of the Canteen and its activities in his apartment that included servicemen and public figures.

Events documented related to the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of Negro Arts and Letters at the Yale University Library include the opening of the collection on January 7, 1950, and a party hosted by Nora Douglas Holt for singers on September 9, 1959, as well as an exhibition, Carl Van Vechten: His Gifts to Yale, held at the Library on June 22, 1955. Events in New York City include Josephine Baker Day in Harlem on May 20, 1951, and discrete parades related to the Peace Mission Movement and Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks, 1935-1939. Photographs and color slides record the wedding of Carmen De Lavallade and Geoffrey Holder and ensuing reception in Westport, Connecticut, on June 26, 1955. There are also a few informal views of performances made by Van Vechten from his seat in audiences.

Views of places primarily include sites in New York City, especially in and around the borough of Manhattan and the Harlem neighborhood. This includes a series of color slides he made in and around Harlem in September-October 1940. Other places include Atlanta University in Georgia and Fisk University in Tennessee as well as the James Weldon Johnson Homes (a public housing project in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) and sites in the Caribbean islands of Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and Saint Thomas.

The source 35-millimeter film negatives for the images in this collection form part of the Carl Van Vechten Papers (YCAL MSS 1050). The film negative roll numbers are referenced in this guide and often appear on the versos of photographic prints. In cases where Van Vechten captured a subject across multiple rolls of film, the resultant prints are housed in discrete folders for each roll. Folder-level notes identify the roll numbers for the film, which form part of the Carl Van Vechten Papers (YCAL MSS 1050) at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Some prints originally formed part of the Langston Hughes bequest, circa 1967, and are noted in this guide.


  • 1932–1964


Language of Materials

From the Collection:

Chiefly in English.

Physical Description

157.31 linear feet

Conditions Governing Access

From the Collection:

This collection is open for research.

Box 50 is for research use only, and may not be duplicated.

Boxes 80-81: Restricted fragile material. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Conditions Governing Use

Photographs by Carl Van Vechten are used with permission of the Van Vechten Trust; permission of the Trust is required to publish Van Vechten photographs in any format. To contact the Van Vechten Trust, email


Series IV is organized into four subseries: Selected Photographic Prints, Unselected Photographic Prints, Photographic Postcards, and Color Slides.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

P. O. Box 208330
New Haven CT 06520-8330 US
(203) 432-2977


121 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511

Opening Hours

Access Information

The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.