The list of people immortalized by Scurlock reads like a "Who's Who" of the Black community, not just for Washington, D.C., but for the United States and the African Diaspora as well. Statesman Dr. Ralph Bunche, educator Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, poets Professor Sterling A. Brown and Countee Cullen, educator Dr. Anna J. Cooper, educator/singer Todd Duncan, General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, Congressman Oscar DePriest, spiritual leaders Father Divine and Elder Solomon Lightfoot Micheaux, opera singer Mme. Lillian Evanti, Dr. Roland Hayes, Lena Horne, artist/professor Lois Mailou Jones, Dr. Mordecai Johnson, Dr. Rayford W. Logan, Mary Church Terrell, Dr. Chancellor Williams, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, and actress/activist Fredi Washington are just a few of the personalities captured by the Scurlock cameras.11 One of the Scurlock portraits of scientist/professor Dr. Ernest E. Just was recently reproduced on a first-class stamp in the Black Heritage series from the United States Postal Service, the first to feature an actual photograph. Dr. Charles R. Drew was photographed numerous times by the Scurlocks in his capacity as Howard University surgeon and scientist, but was also captured even earlier in a Scurlock photo of the Dunbar High School 1922 Basketball Championship team on which he played.

     It became a sign of status to sit for a Scurlock portrait, and the greatest status was accorded those whose portraits were featured in the window of the studio. Mrs. Alice Davis, retired director of the Howard University College of Medicine's Alumni Association and a Scurlock customer from the time her baby pictures were taken by Addison Scurlock until Robert Scurlock's death in 1994, remembers fondly looking forward to walking past the Scurlock Studio window to see whose portrait had been chosen to reign on the easel for that particular month. Robert Scurlock's widow, Vivian Woods Scurlock, recalls the first time she saw her own portrait in the window, long before she got to know the Scurlock family.12

     There was something about the Scurlock style that was difficult to articulate, but which made a Scurlock portrait unique and unmistakable. George Scurlock attributes the Scurlock style to lighting, posing, and retouching. They started with large-format 5x7 view cameras with special portrait lenses. For lights, the Scurlocks were unique in using two large banks of fluorescent tubes in reflectors,13 which were a precursor to the electronic strobe lights diffused through rectangular "soft-boxes", or bounced into diffusing reflector-umbrellas of today's modern photo studios. The effect was that of natural window light, a highly-directional source of diffuse light, which was moved about the subject until it highlighted precisely the desired portions of the face.


<back to previous page


continued on next page>


cologo3.gif (6014 bytes)

November 2000