Ultimately, one comes away with the nagging sensation that the photography for which Scurlock is beloved is of another time. The artist who subverts his ego in total service to the customer has become an anachronism, if, perhaps, one ever existed. Scurlock was a documentary photographer who happened to be a superb artist and craftsman as well. He documented a community that was all but invisible to the outside world. Constance Green called it the "Secret City" in her book about the history of race relations in Washington, D.C. It is interesting to note that there is no mention of the Scurlock Studios or any Black photographers in this volume, or in her massive two-volume history of D.C. Washington, preferring, one supposes, to show us Washington through her eyes, thereby avoiding the issue of how the "Secret City" saw and represented itself.23

     Scurlock thoroughly documented the life and times of the Black community of Washington, D.C., and more important, the people of that community. His were not snapshots, nor were they some voguish clinical warts-and-all verite meditation on the African-American condition. They were celebrations of a people, images of beauty and dignity, iconic images painstakingly crafted with the same meticulous care, no matter the station or renown of the sitter.

     Unfortunately, as Robert Scurlock alluded to in his pessimistic pronouncements about the future of Scurlock Studios in his latter years, the customers who wanted unadorned photographs of self and family were forsaking the studio artists like Scurlock for the franchise photography studios in shopping malls or for freelance photographers, generalists of widely variable skills who would shoot anything for hire. The photographic artists, the meticulous craftsmen with time-honed skills, were forced into choosing between art and making a living, or with supplementing their art with a chameleon-like facility for adapting to the latest photographic fashion. Now, at the dawn of the age of the digital image, it is easy to be pessimistic about the future for all artists still trying to make a living true to their art. Much as the Scurlock collection documented and celebrated a people, it is long overdue for the Scurlock Studio itself to be documented, archived, researched, studied, and honored, and it is incumbent upon those of us who have been touched by those images, to take major steps to that end.


<back to previous page


continued on next page>


cologo3.gif (6014 bytes)

November 2000