NY exhibit pays homage to documentary photographers

Tue Nov 1, 2011 4:26pm EDT
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By Ellen Freilich

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Compelling portraits of everyday life drawn from the streets of New York City form the heart of a new exhibit opening on Friday at The Jewish Museum.

"The Radical Camera: New York's Photo League, 1936-1951," recognizes the role that the League played in the evolution of the documentary photograph,

The organization of young, idealistic photographers saw documentary photography as both an art form and a way to argue for social justice.

"The documentary photograph changed as a result of the really great teaching that distinguished the League in the form of (photographer) Sid Grossman who pushed his students to discover the meaning of their work, but also their relationship to it," said Mason Klein, curator at The Jewish Museum. "That helped their work become more subjective and more poetic."

The League's photographers captured public and private moments: tenement balconies full of people angling for a good view of a passing parade, a woman gazing at a Bleecker Street bakery window, a solitary walker on the Brooklyn Bridge, swing dancers in Harlem. Some images are beautiful; some stark. Many comment subtly on class, race, and disparities of opportunity.

The League's darkroom, exhibition space, and its acclaimed newsletter "Photo Notes" all drew photographers together in a space where they could socialize and exchange ideas.

Women actively participated in the League where they found rare access and recognition.

"We were interested in the synergy of the League, that critical mass of artistry that resulted from the Photo League's panoply of activities," said Catherine Evans, William and Sarah Ross Curator of Photography at the Columbus Museum of Art, which collaborated with The Jewish Museum on the exhibit.   Continued...

<p>A handout photo shows a 1938 gelatin silver print taken by Alexander Alland named "Brooklyn Bridge". REUTERS/The Jewish Museum/Handout</p>