Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art

St. Joseph, Missouri

(816) 233-7003


The Passionate Observer: Photographs by Carl Van Vechten



The Passionate Observer consists of 50 prints providing a summary of Carl Van Vechten's subjects and style. A native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Van Vechten's (1880 - 1964) first career was writing. He started at a newspaper in Chicago and moved on to the New York Times and New York Press. He shifted from journalism to freelance criticism and finally to fiction, publishing seven novels. It was Van Vechten's writings that helped to stimulate a public awareness of the era's avant garde and he played a large roll in the promoting the artists of the Harlem Renaissance movement as well.

It was his discovery of the Leica, the world's first successful 35mm camera, that lead Van Vechten to photography. Although he had made photographs when he was a teenager, the Leica camera was small and lightweight which allowed photographs to be made quickly. With this camera, he recorded many of the leading cultural figures of his era including Cab Calloway, Gertrude Stein, Georgia O'Keeffe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Earle Jones and Laurence Olivier. With no financial need to sell his work, Van Vechten made photographs for himself and continued working as a photographer until he died at the age of 84.

The prints of the exhibition are drawn entirely from the Hallmark Photographic Collection, a project of Hallmark Cards, Inc. This collection was begun in 1964 and now includes over 4,000 prints by more than 600 leading photographers. Since 1980, some 60 exhibitions have been assembled from this collection and presented in nearly 300 bookings in leading museums across the United States and in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain, France and Switzerland.

From top to bottom: Salvador Dali and Man Ray, Paris, June 16, 1934, 1934, gelatin silver print, 9 1/4 x 13 7/8 inches, courtesy of the Hallmark Photographic Collection; Cab Calloway, January 12, 1933, 1933, gelatin silver print, reprinted by permission of the Estate of Carl Van Vechten, Bruce Kellnber, Executor, reproduction courtesy of the Hallmark Photographic Collection, Hallmark Cards, Inc.,

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