Profile: Morgan and Marvin Smith

Morgan (February 16, 1910 – February 17, 1993) and Marvin Smith, (February 16, 1910 – 2003) identical African-American twin brothers, were photographers and artists known for documenting the life of Harlem in the 1930s to 1950s.

The brothers were born in Nicholasville, Kentucky, to sharecroppers Charles and Allena Smith. The family moved to Lexington, when Morgan and Marvin were 12 years old.

While in high school Morgan and Marvin Smith developed their artistic skills using oil paints and soaps to create sculptures. Their passion moved them to Harlem, New York, in 1933 and opened up M. Smith Studios soon thereafter in 1937. The studio was located on 125th Street, next to the Apollo Theater, and became a meeting place for performers, artists, and fashion models, many of whom they had met as the Apollo’s official photographers.

The Smith Brothers using New Media-technological advances and artistic talent did video, sculpting, painting, and at an extremely high level when resources were difficult to acquire for African Americans. Additionally, their mission was to shine their lens on all shades of Blackness during a time when dark skin was considered by some as a handicap in the entertainment industry.

Documentary and Resources

There have been several documentaries and books written about the brothers, including Harlem: The Vision of Morgan and Marvin Smith written by James and Morgan Smith, on November 13, 1997.

They worked with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and a PBS Special aired in 1995.

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