Years after Louis Daguerre invented and popularized the daguerreotype, advancements in camera technology grew. Developments like shortened shutter times and decreased lens sizes increased convenience and reduced costs, and as a result, commercial photography studios multiplied across the United States and Western Europe.

By 1850, New York City alone was home to 77 studios. Among them was Matthew B. Brady’s “Gallery of Illustrious Americans” which photographed many of the country's prominent citizens, such as President Abraham Lincoln. As the 1800s ended, photography became even more inexpensive and accessible, making it possible for private individuals to keep and share images of their loved ones.

In 1916, James Van Der Zee opened his Guarantee Photo Studio. There he took photos of Black Harlemites during the neighborhood’s historic Renaissance. Van Der Zee later photographed Black celebrities, like Jean-Michele Basquiat, until his death in 1983. Commercial photography's rise allowed many to fashion their self-image and capture important moments.


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