By all accounts, Addison Scurlock was a meticulous craftsman, an artist who was a perfectionist about every detail of his work, including posing. That Scurlock instinctively knew where to position the head (and hands and shoulders), different from subject to subject, and photograph to photograph, is what made Addison Sr. the portrait artist that he was. A sound foundation in photographic technique and science gave him a good finished negative, but the artistry with which he posed his subjects made that finished image a work of art. That he was consistently able to repeat himself, creating a new work of art each time with each subject, is what kept him in demand for over fifty years.

     Retouching was the third hallmark of a Scurlock portrait. Addison Sr. was a masterful retoucher who, through the use of a vibrating retouching light box and pencils of varying degrees of hardness, could eliminate unwanted wrinkles, crows-feet, blemishes, or spurious reflections or refracted light on the eyeglasses of his subject's negatives. The skill came in making the tell-tale signs of retouching invisible, and he passed on this skill to both of his sons. When Robert introduced color photography into the business in the 1940's, colored dyes were applied to the color negatives with fine-bristled brushes to achieve the same ends.

     Addison and Essie Scurlock had four boys: Walter (who died at age two), Addison, Jr. (who succumbed to scarlet fever at seventeen), Robert, and George. Robert graduated from Howard University in 1937 with a degree in Economics and George in 1940 in Business Administration. Although Robert went on to chronicle the exploits of the 301st Fighter Squadron of the Tuskegee Airmen with whom he served as executive officer, George spent the War years running Scurlock Studios with his father. The elder Scurlock was close to sixty years old, so George found himself doing most of the commercial photography and work away from the studio, including virtually all of the Howard University work.14

     After Howard University but before World War II, Robert Scurlock expanded the Studio's involvement in photojournalism and stock photography, contributing press photos to much of the Black press, including the Washington Afro-American, Washington Tribune, Norfolk Journal and Guide, Pittsburgh Courier, Cleveland Call and Post, and the (New York) Amsterdam News,15 as well as magazines like Flash and Our World. After the war, the two brothers opened the Capitol School of Photography, from which many ex-GI’s, by virtue of the G.I. bill, would go on to successful careers in the photography business.


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November 2000