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The Radical Camera: New York's Photo League, 1936-1951by Mason Klein
Synopses & Reviews
In 1955, shortly after Emmett Till was murdered by white supremacists in Mississippi, his grieving mother distributed to the press a gruesome photograph of his mutilated corpse. Asked why she would do this, she explained that by witnessing with their own eyes the brutality of segregation and racism, Americans would be more likely to support the cause of racial justice. Let the world see what Ive seen,” was her reply. The publication of the photograph inspired a generation of activists to join the civil rights movement.
Despite this extraordinary episode, the story of visual cultures role in the modern civil rights movement is rarely included in its history. This is the first comprehensive examination of the ways images mattered in the struggle, and it investigates a broad range of media including photography, television, film, magazines, newspapers, and advertising.
These images were ever present and diverse: the startling footage of southern white aggression and black suffering that appeared night after night on television news programs; the photographs of black achievers and martyrs in Negro periodicals; the humble snapshot, no less powerful in its ability to edify and motivate. In each case, the war against racism was waged through pictures—millions of points of light, millions of potent weapons that forever changed a nation. Through vivid storytelling and incisive analysis, this powerful book allows us to see and understand the crucial role that visual culture played in forever changing a nation.
"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.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
An in-depth look at the influential Photo League, whose blend of aesthetics and social activism advanced modern photography
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.
This lavishly illustrated book is the first to examine the significant contributions of John and Dominique de Menil to art, architecture, film, and the civil and human rights movements. The de Menils, who moved to Houston from France in 1941, amassed one of the world's great private art collections and became passionately involved in the cause of human rights.
The volume includes a discussion of the building of the de Menils' art collection; their patronage of modern architecture in Houston; their embrace of modernism; their leadership in Houston's civil rights movement and in human rights projects worldwide; their commissioning of works of art; their involvement in early film education and documentary filmmaking; and their establishment of the Rothko Chapel, the Menil Collection, the Cy Twombly Gallery, the Dan Flavin Installation, and the Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum. Vintage photographs, including those taken by Henri Cartier Bresson and Eve Arnold, previously unpublished correspondence with artists, and an illustrated chronology all add to this textured tribute to the de Menils' extraordinary achievements.
About the Author
Josef Helfenstein is director of The Menil Collection. Laureen Schipsi is publisher at The Menil Collection.
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