"Black and Beautiful" is the current exhibition at Manhattan's Keith De Lellis Gallery. The exhibit celebrates African-American portraiture by more than two dozen acclaimed photographers, including Calabria-born photographer, Alfredo Valente.
Singer, painter, photographer, art collector, dealer, cultural administrator, Alfredo Valente (1899-1973) was among the most cultured of the camera artists who chronicled Broadway. Born in Calabria, Italy, trained as a fine artist and also as an opera singer, he came to the United States in 1927. For several years he sang in public, a career that culminated in a not too successful performance of "Aida" in 1930 with the Civic Opera.
Valente's career as a visual artist went better. In 1931, he became the photographer for the Group Theater, the experimental repertory company organized by Harold Clurman, Cheryl Crawford and Lee Strasberg. His images evoked the seriousness of that idealistic troupe and established his bona fides on Broadway. By March 1933, he was publishing regularly in magazines and in newspapers. Through the 1930s Valente (along with Gray-O'Reilly Studio) worked for Stage, then the chief monthly chronicling Broadway. Like James Abbe a decade before, Valente made a specialty of portraying performers in costume, but not performing their parts. These full page character-portraits became his 1930s trademark. By 1937, he had eclipsed Maurice Goldberg, who was increasingly involved in Hollywood, as the arts photographer of choice at the New York Times. At various points during 1935-37 he worked as a contract photographer shooting publicity for Columbia Pictures.
Throughout his career, he was intimately connected with the painting community in New York. In 1952, he exhibited at the New School twenty-eight portraits of New York painters accompanying their own self-portraits. He invested the profits of his portrait business in paintings, collecting substantial bodies of works by Raphael Soyer, Kuniyoshi, and Ben Shahn. By 1959, the value of these paintings had risen to such extent that Valente closed his portrait studio and founded the Alfredo Valente Gallery at 119 W. 57th Street in Manhattan. In January 1964, the Chase Manhattan Bank exhibited a show devoted to his work entitled, "The Personal and Private Eye of the Photographer."
Valente believed straight portraiture could be rendered dramatic by camera angles and lighting, so artistic effect was achieved in the setup of the shot by dynamic arrangement of the subject rather than by the manipulation of the negative.
Keith De Lellis Gallery
Fine Art & Photography
1045 Madison Avenue, #3
New York, NY 10075
- Photo: Salvatore Dali by Alfredo Valente
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