That Addison Scurlock was the finest African-American portrait photographer in Washington (if not ever) is hard to dispute. He was easily one of the top studio photographers of any race, which is why his relative lack of renown is so lamentable. Addison Scurlock was born on July 19, 1883 in Fayetteville, North Carolina, the son of George Clay Scurlock, Sr., one-time Fayetteville Postmaster who, having failed in his bid for a seat in the North Carolina State Senate on the Republican ticket, moved his family to Washington, D.C. in 1900.7 There, his father worked his way through law school as a messenger for the U.S. Treasury Department, passed the bar, and set up a law practice on U Street.8 Addison, having earlier evidenced an interest in photography, apprenticed himself to the studio of noted white photographer Moses P. Rice and Sons at 1225 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.9

     By 1904, Addison Scurlock had begun to build a client base of his own from people in the Black community, "photographing students at Howard University, M Street and Armstrong high schools, and at Black universities and high schools around the South"10 and shooting portraits in his parents' home at 447 S Street N.W. His portrait of Paul Laurence Dunbar, who died in 1906, was likely taken at this address. In 1907, having married Mamie Estelle Fearing, he opened his first photographic studio in their new home at 1202 T Street, where his business continued to grow. In 1911, he opened his permanent studio at 900 U Street, N.W., where he would remain until his death in 1964.

     Scurlock Studios serviced all the photographic needs of the Black community of Washington, D.C., although it was for portraiture that the Scurlock Studios became renowned. From 1907 through the early 1990's, Scurlock Studios photographed every President, Vice-President, Dean, Trustee, and most faculty members at Howard University.

     It came to be expected that every Black person of importance (or who wished to be perceived as important) would sit before the Scurlock Studio cameras. Addison Scurlock had a way of imbuing his subjects with an unmistakable air of dignity and with a presence that bespoke a quiet, understated power. Important Black personages would make a point to include a stop at Scurlock Studios on their itinerary when visiting D.C.


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November 2000