Twin brothers Marvin and Morgan Smith were born on February 16, 1910, into a sharecropping family in Nicholasville, Kentucky. As young children, the boys were exposed to very limited opportunities that ultimately led to their artistic success. Their family moved to Lexington, where the Smith boys attended Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. While in high school the Smith boys developed their artistic skills; they started using oil paints and soap to create sculptures.
The boys were later introduced to artist Matthew Archdeacon. After high school, the Smith brothers decided to pursue art full time. The brothers first tried their luck in Cincinnati; however, that did not work out for them, so they soon related to Harlem, New York. They found work at the Works Progress Administration for manual labor, which allowed them to be able to pursue art lessons from Augusta Savage. At the art class, the brothers identical twin sisters and had a double wedding. Three years later, both couples divorced on the same day.
Around 1937, the twins decided to focus their art on capturing life in Harlem. A couple years later, they opened a commercial photographic studio, next to the Apollo Theater. It became a meeting place for entertainers, artists, and models, many of whom the brothers had already met as the Apollo’s official photographers.
In their book, ”Harlem: The Vision of Morgan and Marvin Smith,” the Smiths dedicated their photography towards showcasing the good life in Harlem. They never took pictures of hardships of the city, which set them apart from other artists and photographers at the time. According to The New York Amsterdam Times in 1997, the boys demonstrated a “commitment to bring light to the positive happenings in Harlem.”
Marvin Smith left Harlem during the 1950s to study art under Romare Bearden in Paris. He also became interested in film and later worked for ABC. The brothers worked in the art industry until 1975. Morgan Smith died at the age of 83. Marvin Smith died in 2003 at the age of 93.