Synopses & Reviews
A provocative new illustrated history of the famed early chronicler of New York's immigrant poor, seen here as an opportunistic, camera-toting social reformer whose legacy lives on.
"I don't remember my mother or my aunts and uncles talking of their father as a photographer....In his lettersI have read most of themhe never mentions a camera."J. Riis Owre (grandson of Jacob Riis)
More than ninety years after his death, Jacob Riis maintains a stubbornly persistent hold on the American imagination. Remembered as a pioneering photographer, he was the first to document the state of New York's slums, publicizing in haunting photographs the plight of the urban poor at the height of European immigration to the city. But Riis confessed to being "no good at all as a photographer" and in recent years has been disparaged for racist views and political opportunism.
In Rediscovering Jacob Riis, Bonnie Yochelson and Daniel Czitrom address the complex legacy of the pioneering social reformer. In a work of highly original scholarship, they reclaim Riis from the art camp, relocating him in the field of social and cultural history. Their provocative new book reveals Riis to be an inspired self-promoter who, although neither an original thinker nor a serious photographer, nevertheless framed the discussion of urban poverty in terms still relevant today.
Extensively illustrated with Riis's images, Rediscovering Jacob Riis is revisionist history at its best, as appealing to photographers, journalists, and social historians as it is to the general reader.
The definitive study of the images made by a pioneer journalist and photographer who passionately advocated for Americaandrsquo;s urban poor.
Danish-born Jacob A. Riis (1849andndash;1914) found success in America as a reporter for the New York Tribune,
first documenting crime and later turning his eye to housing reform. As tenement living conditions became unbearable in the wake of massive immigration, Riis and his camera captured some of the earliest, most powerful images of American urban poverty.
This important publication is the first comprehensive study and complete catalogue of Riisandrsquo;s world-famous images, and places him at the forefront of early-20th-century social reform photography. It is the culmination of more than two decades of research on Riis, assembling materials from five repositories (the Riis Collection at the Museum of the City of New York, the Library of Congress, the New-York Historical Society, the New York Public Library, and the Museum of South Westand#160;Jutland, Denmark) as well as previously unpublished photographs and notes. In this handsome volume, Bonnie Yochelson proposes a novel thesisandmdash;that Riis was a radical publicist who utilized photographs to enhance his arguments, but had no great skill or ambition as a photographer. She also provides important context for understanding how Riisandrsquo;s work would be viewed in turn-of-the-century New York, whether presented in lantern slide lectures or newspapers.
About the Author
Bonnie Yochelson, formerly curator of prints and photographs at the Museum of the City of New York, teaches at the School of Visual Arts, New York. The author of Berenice Abbott: Changing New York (The New Press), she lives in New York City. Daniel Czitrom is a professor of history at Mount Holyoke College. He is the author of Media and the American Mind and co-author of Out of Many. He lives in South Hadley, Massachusetts.