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August 09, 2002 - Image 66

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-08-09

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NEW YORK from page 64

Semitism ran high and pressure to assimilate was con-
siderable. Kozloff eloquently describes the tension as a
lover's quarrel with cultural assimilation — always in
transit but never arriving.
Alfred Stieglitz, the patriarch of early New York photog-
raphy, came from a wealthy German Jewish family in
Hoboken, N.J., and advocated photography as fine art.
Stieglitz, who kept his Jewish heritage under wraps, empha-
sized New York's grandeur and growth as subject matter,
transforming drab urbanscapes into an idealized New York.

Art Of The Masses

At the opposite end of the spectrum was social activist
Lewis Hine, who used his lens as a political platform
for urban reform. Although not Jewish, the photogra-
phers he most greatly influenced were Jewish, especially
Ben Shahn.
The Wisconsin-born Hine deplored the exploitation
of workers by New York's ruthless employers and saw
photography as a medium for critical reportage, using
melancholy realism to effect change.
In Hine's 1905 portrait Climbing Into America, a
group of newly arrived immigrants
are about to exit up a staircase,
Above:
clutching suitcases and paperwork..
Lou Stouman:
More than a collective group por-
Sitting in Front of
trait, it is a dramatic narrative of dif-
the Strand, Times
ferent peoples leaving the Old World
Square," 1940.
behind to face the uncertainties of
Below: Weegee
the New
(born Arthur Fellig):
Many street photographers, includ-
"Crowd at Coney
ing Shahn and Walker Evans, cap-
Island, Temperature
tured the indigence and anxiety of
89 degrees ...
the Depression. Both Shahn, a poor
They came early and
Jewish immigrant, and Evans, an
stayed late," 1940.
affluent WASP, were drawn to the
plight of the out-of-work poor.
In one of Shahn's photographs of people waiting, four
men, despair writ large on their faces, sit on a bench with
nothing but time on their hands.
Evans used a concealed camera (which was against
the law) to capture his image of two subway riders
grabbing a catnap, a tense exhaustion lining their
faces.
More than any other group of white photogra-
phers, New York Jews attended to and visualized the
lives of black America. Liberal photographers of the
1930s, including Morris Engel and Aaron Siskind,
regarded Harlem as a zone of despair where people
were up against the greatest odds in white democra-
cy.
Weegee, born in the Ukraine in 1899 as. Arthur
Fellig, was a freelance photographer of crime acci-
dents and "human interest" working for such tabloids
as New York's Daily News. Weegee's masterpiece,

Crowd at Coney Island, Temperature 89 degrees ... They
came early and stayed late, taken July 22, 1940, cap-
tures the swarming multitudes at the beach, a sea of
humanity of every age, body size and background,
exclusive of color — no blacks were allowed.
Like Weegee, Lisette Model (1901-1983), an Austrian
emigre whose mother was Jewish, looked into the unsa-
vory aspects of American society. It was the graphic
realism of Weegee and the psychological realism of
Model, Kozloff writes, that made it possible for the can-
dor of the work that was to come.

8/ 9
2002

66

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