Morgan and Marvin Smith are twin brothers who came to Harlem in 1933 from Lexington Kentucky with dreams of captioning via their cameras the remaining days of the Harlem Renaissance.  By 1933 the stock market crash of 1929  rocked the core of downtown Wall Street and the cultural scene of Uptown Harlem. Tough times caused many to become less interested in Black culture and thus the Harlem Renaissance was coming to end .  Over the next 40 years the twins used cameras and paint brushes to record what remained and in the process created their own legacy.

The life and times of Morgan and Marvin Smith:

  • Born Lexington Kentucky 1910
  • Arrive in Harlem 1933

M. Smith Studios (1937 1970’s) opened 125th Street and became an instant sensation taking pictures of celebrities and community residents.  Having a studio next to the Apollo Theater made it easy for all the stars to stop before and after shows to be recorded.

The Smith Brothers were “New Media” back then using technological advances + artistic talents: shooting video, sculpting, painting and doing it all at an extremely high level when resources were hard to acquire for African-Americans.  Additionally, they made it a point to shine their lens on all shades of Blackness during a time when  dark skin was considered by some to be a handicap in the entertainment industry.

The intent of their efforts were to capture the positive happenings in the lives of community people, focusing less on the negative. 

Sadly with new technology (1960’s) such as the polaroid cameras, less people came to the studio to have pictures taken and therefore M. Smith Studios went out of business in the mid 1970’s.  The saddest thing is that toward the end some of the original prints and negatives were trashed.  Thankfully a lot of the collection has survived: “Harlem: the vision of Morgan and Marvin Smith”

The author of this blog just purchased 2 copies of above book on ebay.