Program Success 27 Summer 2021
“ A Man in a Bowler Hat ,” from 1976 Photograph © Dawoud Bey / Courtesy the artist and Sean Kelly Gallery / Stephen Daiter Gallery / Rena Bransten Gallery
“ Hey , man !” Scott shouted . “ What that shirt say ?” Having snared the boy ’ s attention , Scott took the opportunity to spell out the benefits of organized religion . The boy gave a polite smile and walked away .
Next , an elderly woman named Delores Lee , who wore a hat adorned with rhinestones , walked up , and Scott urged Bey to share his memories of the McMillans .“ Oh , yes , the McMillans ,” Lee said , beaming . “ They used to have the boys in one room and the girls in the other after Sunday school .”
“ That was beautiful ,” Bey said , setting off to his next stop . “ It ’ s nice to know some of that history is still alive .” On West 132nd Street , between Powell and Douglass Boulevards , his gait took on a determined quality . He was trying to find a spot where he had photographed someone forty-five years ago , when he was twenty-three . “ It was the first image I shot that I actually liked ,” he said . On his iPhone , he pulled up the picture , which is titled “ A Man in a Bowler Hat ,” and he scrutinized the windows of brownstones along the street for a potential match . No luck .
“ I used to always try to be in Harlem on Sunday mornings ,” he said , taking a breather on a stoop . “ Because that ’ s when people were out . Church service always started around ten-forty-five , so I would try to be out here by ten o ’ clock .” He described how he ’ d had to overcome his shyness before he could ask the man in the bowler hat permission to take his photo . Then he took out his iPhone and posed for a photo of himself in front of an apartment building .
The last stop on the tour was the Loew ’ s Victoria Theatre , on 125th Street . Or , rather , what used to be the Loew ’ s Victoria . The site is now home to a twentyeight-story tower containing apartments and a hotel , with room for arts and cultural spaces . In 1976 , Bey shot an iconic photograph of a stylish young Black boy posed cockily in front of the theatre ’ s ornately tiled box office . The grand exterior is now mostly hidden behind a mess of construction tarps and scaffolding . Taking all this in , Bey charged across 125th Street , undeterred by the whoosh of traffic , to get a better view . He shook his head and peered at the neoclassical building front , flanked by Ionic columns , which anchored the new glass tower . “ Well , at least they didn ’ t tear down the façade ,” he said .
Dawoud Bey Illustration by João Fazenda