The Radical Camera: New York's Photo League, 1936-1951

Overview

Artists in the Photo League, active from 1936 to 1951, were known for capturing sharply revealing, compelling moments from everyday life. Their focus centered on New York City and its vibrant streets—a newsboy at work, a brass band on a bustling corner, a crowded beach at Coney Island. Though beautiful, the images harbor strong social commentary on issues of class, child labor, and opportunity. The Radical Camera explores the fascinating blend of aesthetics and social activism at the heart of the Photo League, ...

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Overview

Artists in the Photo League, active from 1936 to 1951, were known for capturing sharply revealing, compelling moments from everyday life. Their focus centered on New York City and its vibrant streets—a newsboy at work, a brass band on a bustling corner, a crowded beach at Coney Island. Though beautiful, the images harbor strong social commentary on issues of class, child labor, and opportunity. The Radical Camera explores the fascinating blend of aesthetics and social activism at the heart of the Photo League, tracing the group's left-leaning roots and idealism to the worker-photography movement in Europe. Influenced by mentors Lewis Hine, Berenice Abbott, and Paul Strand, artists in the Photo League worked within a unique complex comprising a school, a darkroom, a gallery, and a salon, in which photography was discussed as both a means for social change and an art form. The influence of the Photo League artists on modern photography was enormous, ushering in the New York School. 

Presenting 150 works of the members of the Photo League alongside complementary essays that offer new interpretations of the League's work, ideas, and pedagogy, this beautifully illustrated book features artists including Margaret Bourke-White, Sid Grossman, Morris Engel, Lisette Model, Ruth Orkin, Walter Rosenblum, Aaron Siskind, W. Eugene Smith, and Weegee, among many others.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
During the heyday of documentary photography, the Photo League emerged and enabled a generation of young photographers to speak through an unflinching lens. New York City dominates the frames, with many of the 150 plates representing the exciting metropolis during the depression and post-War years. Lewis Hine captures the weary hopefulness of a child of the Depression; Ruth Orkin creates a bold abstraction of hats, legs, and concrete in Times Square. Better-known photographers like Paul Strand and Weegee were also members of the renowned collective, but it is the forgotten stories of the Photo League, like those of Lucy Ashjian and Vivian Cherry, that round out this dramatic collection. Photo League photographers were occasionally criticized for their politics and their resolute stance regarding their subjects, but ultimately it was McCarthy's Communist blacklist, not aesthetic debate, that shuttered the organization. For this book and a traveling exhibition, The Jewish Museum and the Columbus Museum of Art have brought together their collections and their expertise to record the history of a short-lived but influential arts organization. (Nov.)
New England Book Festival

Winner of the 2011 New England Book Festival in the Photography/Art category. This award is given by the JM Northern Media family of festivals, and sponsored by the Larimar St. Croix Writers Colony, eDivvy, Shophanista and Westside Websites

— Winner Photography/Art

Studio International

"[The catalogue] should be considered indispensable to a serious photography book library."—Studio International
ForeWord Magazine

Bronze Medal for the 2012 ForeWord Book of the Year Award in the Photography category

— Book of the Year Bronze Winner

Bookslut

 "The Radical Camera. . . catalogue surveys and illuminates the many personalities and their politics that formulated the Photo League's tenants and ensuing oeuvre throughout  the tumults of their times"—Bookslut
Dedalus Foundation

Won Honorable Mention for the 2012 Exhibition Catalogue Award given by the Dedalus Foundation

— Exhibition Catalogue Award Honorable Mention

Los Angeles Book Festival

Runner-up for the 2011-2012 Los Angeles Book Festival in the Photography/Art category, sponsored by JM Northern Media LLC

— Photography/Art Award Runner-up

New England Book Festival - Winner Photography/Art

Winner of the 2011 New England Book Festival in the Photography/Art category. This award is given by the JM Northern Media family of festivals, and sponsored by the Larimar St. Croix Writers Colony, eDivvy, Shophanista and Westside Websites
ForeWord Magazine - Book of the Year Bronze Winner

Bronze Medal for the 2012 ForeWord Book of the Year Award in the Photography category
Dedalus Foundation - Exhibition Catalogue Award Honorable Mention

Won Honorable Mention for the 2012 Exhibition Catalogue Award given by the Dedalus Foundation
Los Angeles Book Festival - Photography/Art Award Runner-up

Runner-up for the 2011-2012 Los Angeles Book Festival in the Photography/Art category, sponsored by JM Northern Media LLC
Choice - Outstanding Academic Title

Selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title 2012 for Photography within the Humanities category.
Library Journal
A group of photographers based in New York City, the Photo League explored photography as a medium for encouraging social change between 1936 and 1951—disbanding when the organization was accused of engaging in communist activity. Klein (curator, Jewish Museum, New York; editor, Modigliani: Beyond the Myth) and Evans (curator, photography, Columbus Museum of Art) explore the important history and influence of the Photo League, which included photographers like Morris Engel, Margaret Bourke-White, and Weegee. The book contains five scholarly essays that explore the formation of the group, the racism and racial issues they confronted, the women photographers who participated, the publications influenced by their work, and the impact of McCarthyism on their dissolution. It also includes 150 black-and-white images taken by league photographers, many of which are specifically mentioned in the essays as a part of larger discussions about art, activism, technique, and social commentary. VERDICT This book will be of great interest to readers interested in the history of photography. An essential title for academic and public libraries supporting photography collections.—Valerie Nye, Santa Fe Univ. of Art and Design Lib., NM
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300146875
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 12/27/2011
  • Pages: 248
  • Product dimensions: 9.70 (w) x 11.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author


Mason Klein is curator at The Jewish Museum, New York. He is the author of Modigliani: Beyond the Myth and Alias Man Ray. Catherine Evans is the William and Sarah Ross Soter Curator of Photography at the Columbus Museum of Art.
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