Addison Scurlock and his sons Robert and George are three of the most significant photographers in American history. No, they weren't technical innovators or artistic trail-blazers. While they made portraits of great power and beauty, they were essentially good, solid commercial photographers. What makes them important is the body of work they produced.
Scurlock Studio: Omega Mardi Gras, n.d. (c. 1940). (Scurlock Studio Records, c. 1905-1994, Archives Center, National Museum of American History. Click directly on photo to see a larger version.)
Between 1904 and 1994, the Scurlock Studio produced thousands of photos of the artists and entertainers, businessmen and scholars, the schools, churches, and civic clubs of Washington, D.C.'s, black middle class. It was a world that most Americans didn't know existed. (In the 1960s, Constance McLaughlin Green called her account of black Washington The Secret City.) Looking back, we can see that its members played important roles in shaping American history -- and not only during the Civil Rights era. The Scurlocks were on hand to record their activities, at work and at play. The result is an extensive and immensely valuable collection, which is now preserved at the Smithsonian Institution.
Scurlock Studio: Omega Mardi Gras, n.d. (c. 1940).
D.C.'s black middle class was large (perhaps the largest in the country) and relatively prosperous. One of its anchors was Howard University, where Omega Psi Phi, an African-American fraternity, had been founded in 1911. In these photos, fraternity members and their dates are doing what we all ought to do, today, in some fashion or another -- celebrating Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras.