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Portraits of a City

Portraits of a City is a Web resource built on work underway at the Archives Center, National Museum of American History, to preserve and provide access to the photographic archives of the Scurlock Studio. For most of the twentieth century, two generations of Scurlocks documented Washington, D.C.'s African American community and city life. The thousands of images in the Scurlock archives are an invaluable resource for understanding the history of Washington and of the nation.

To learn more about the Scurlock family and their studio, visit The Scurlocks area.

Portraits of a City enables visitors to view, browse, and search thousands of images captured by the Scurlocks and presented here in seven thematic categories. The At Home, In the Community, At Work, In the Classroom, At Play, In the Nation, and Personal Portraits areas provide views into the experiences of thousands of Washingtonians throughout the past century. By offering a sampler album of Scurlock images in each area we hope to share with you a sense of the people and events that have shaped our nation's capitol and the nation at large, as seen through the Scurlock lens.

Each area will include “Reflections” by Washington residents and others with strong connections to the city. Some of these authors were present for events or remember the people whose faces look out at us from the photographs. And of course, the city and those who live, work, study, and play within it are still as vibrant and alive as they have been since Addison made his first photograph nearly 100 years ago.

Preserving the Scurlock Legacy

The largest proportion of the Scurlock Collection is in the form of deteriorating negatives that are literally crumbling and melting away. The Archives Center, with the generous support ofprivate donors, including Elihu and Susan Rose, and the Save America's Treasures program, has secured funds to stabilize, organize, store, and create digital surrogates of some of these negatives.

Thousands of digital images captured from the Scurlock Studio negatives are available for review and use in the Smithsonian Institution's Research and Information System (SIRIS), as well as highlighted here in Portraits of a City. Using SIRIS, images can be searched by date, subject, description, and title.

The photographs and negatives included in the Scurlock Photographic Studio Records are organized and identified in various ways and in varying degrees of detail. Some clearly identify who commissioned the picture to be taken, the individual, event or group captured, and the date on which the image was created. Connections can be made between negatives inscribed with Scurlock Studio numbers and the Studio job ledgers which tracked the commision, composition, and completion of more than 60,000 hired jobs. In addition to work recorded in the job ledgers, there are forays into art photography, stock photography, photojournalism, and candid snapshots taken by Addison and his sons.

Unfortunately there also are many thousands of images for which there is little or no information. To the best of our abilities, we capture and identify these images by content and format. We assign descriptive titles and connect the image to a date or date range, if we can confidently identify one. We hope that the increased accessibility of the images will lead to more complete identification of images and their histories. If you have information regarding one of the images on the site, please let us know by emailing the Archives Center.

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