4 Saints in 3 Acts – A Snapshot of the American Avant-garde, The Photographers’ Gallery, London

20 October 2017 – 11 February 2018

The first exhibition worldwide to focus on the photographic dimensions of the ground-breaking American modernist opera, Four Saints in Three Acts.

The opera premièred in Hartford, Connecticut, to mark the opening of Pablo Picasso’s first solo exhibition in America, and transferred to Broadway as the first opera to open there in February 1934. Defying the form and content of traditional opera and featuring an all African-American cast, Four Saints came to epitomise a unique experimental moment and was considered a seminal work of the trans-Atlantic American avant-garde.

Photography played a central role in the productions’ development, creative process and documentation and this exhibition brings together over 80 photographs, from cast portraits to stage and behind-the-scenes shots and includes previously unseen work from such leading photographers as Lee Miller, Carl Van Vechten, George Platt Lynes and Thérèse Bonney.

A crucial element of the success of Four Saints in Three Acts was the employment of an all African-American cast, recruited from the choirs and nightclubs of Harlem. The portraits of choir director, Eva Jessye, and several cast members by Miller and Van Vechten in particular offer unique glimpses of a largely unknown community of Harlem-based classical music performers.