When he arrived in New York, in 1906, Carl Van Vechten became the Times’ music and dance critic, celebrating innovative artists such as Isadora Duncan. When he took up photography, he managed to capture many major personalities of his era from Billie Holiday to Anna May Wong or the artist, Leonor Fini. Although, the American photographer liked to add elaborate backgrounds, he created majestic natural portraits. In 1925, he had the idea of a new project which he called his ‘Negro novel’ and that he presented to Gertrude Stein: ‘This will not be a novel about Negroes in the South or white contacts or lynchings. It will be about NEGROES, as they live now in the new city of Harlem (which is part of New York).’ He had grown interested in the sights and sounds of Harlem that he also observed through the lens of his camera, and wanted to celebrate its inventive music, nightclubs and inhabitants. He chose a controversial title for his novel, Nigger Heaven, as a hint to the slang term for segregated balconies in theaters, as one character explains in the book: ‘Nigger Heaven! That’s what Harlem is. We sit in our places in the gallery of this New York theatre and watch the white world sitting down below in the good seats in the orchestra. Occasionally they turn their faces up towards us, their hard, cruel faces, to laugh or sneer, but they never beckon.’ Although many people urged him to change the title, he didn’t and, by writing about smart, college-educated Afro-Americans who enjoyed cabaret life, Carl Van Vechten turned into the white man who published a pro-Negro book that used the word ‘Nigger’.