The Photograph is a breathtaking film that gives us a glimpse of our changing world inspired by the New York photographer James Van Der Zee. The portrait that the famous photographer James Van Der Zee made of his grandfather in Harlem brings the filmmaker back to this magical place in New York a hundred years later. This one photo unleashes a whirlwind of exceptional stories. About New York and its Black inhabitants, about pride and tradition, about the power of photography, and about director Sherman De Jesus’ grandfather.
Sherman De Jesus heads to New York with a seemingly clear goal in mind: to find out the story behind the only photo of his grandfather, Juan De Jesus. The black-and-white image was taken by American photographer James van der Zee, a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance. It shows Juan as a proud, stately man. An important detail: Juan De Jesus was a Black man. And at the beginning of the last century, Black people were not usually portrayed in such an impressive, ceremonial way – except in Harlem, New York.
On the eve of this cultural heyday, James Van Der Zee photographs the new residents of Harlem in New York in their most beautiful suits, most expensive gowns, luxurious fur coats and handmade hats. Just like the grandfather of De Jesus, who travelled the world as a black sailor.
At a time when segregation and racial violence are spreading, Harlem offers a safe haven in the early twenties for those who want to flee Jim Crow (discriminatory laws and oppression). Thousands of migrants from the southern states and the Caribbean find in Harlem the freedom to be themselves and express their identity in music, art and literature. The unique art and ideology that flourished during this Harlem Renaissance still leave their mark on contemporary culture.
Today it is photographer Jamel Shabazz who wants to portray the Harlem of today as the contemporary equivalent of James Van Der Zee. Jazz has given way to hip-hop, migrants from the Southern States are now immigrants from Africa, and Harlem himself is threatened by gentrification.
A cinematic ode to the inhabitants of Harlem, about pride, tradition and the power of the image.