For the rest of the 1980's and on into the early 1990's, Robert Scurlock and his printer and darkroom technician Scott Engdahl ran Custom Craft together, Robert doing all the shooting and Scott the printing and processing. For much of the remaining business, the customers were likely to have been long-time clients. Increasingly, Robert would hire trusted freelance photographers to assist on the more arduous shoots, and, in the case of wedding photography, to do the entire shoot. Robert had promised his wife Vivian for some time that he was finally getting serious about retiring, but he could not just shut the door and walk away.

     In September of 1994, Robert Scurlock suffered a massive stroke and went into a coma from which he would never recover. He died on December 1, 1994, three weeks shy of his seventy-eighth birthday.

     It is sad that Robert Scurlock, a man with a degree in Economics, the man on whose shoulders the Scurlock Studio came to lie, and in whom the Scurlock legacy was entrusted, should have died without leaving a last will and testament in which he could have delineated exactly what he felt the final disposition of the Scurlock collection should be. After protracted and often contentious negotiation, the Scurlock collection has finally been secured by the Smithsonian Institute, an end toward which Robert Scurlock had been in the preliminary stages of discussion at the time of his death.

     The written record on Scurlock Studios is disgracefully scant. A few  Black photographers have managed to have books of their work published, but to date, Scurlock has not been among them.22 One logically turns to the countless tomes purporting to oversee the evolution of photography and the great photographers through history, though one is hard-pressed to find mention of any Black photographers. In 1989, for example, the National Gallery of Art mounted a massive retrospective show on the occasion of the sesquicentennial of the invention of photography. "On The Art of Fixing A Shadow: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Photography," was accompanied by a beautiful 510-page catalog of the show. Among the hundreds of photographers to be found representing this one hundred and fifty year period there was neither VanDerZee, nor Scurlock, nor Parks, nor any other Black photographer, save one: Roy DeCarava, whose massive and seminal oeuvre was represented by a single photograph.


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November 2000