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William Klein and The New York School 1940s and 50s Street Photography

William Klein and The New York School 1940s and 50s Street Photography | June – September 2017

The exhibition featured rarely seen 1950’s New York images by William Klein, and several photographers gathered together in Jane Livingston’s seminal 1992 book The New York School.  Included works were all taken during the 1940’s and 1950’s. Read the bio for each artist below. We featured beautiful small-scale pieces by New Yorker Rebecca Lepkoff, who was associated with the Photo League, the legendary group of New York based photographers dedicated to using photography to capture everyday life and promote social involvement, which was first established in the mid-1930’s.

Rebecca Lepkoff

(American, 1916-2014)

Ted Croner

(American, 1922-2005) Ted Croner was born in Baltimore, MD. and grew up in Charlotte, N.C. After joining the army during World War II, Croner worked as an aerial photographer with the United States Army Air Corps stationed in the South Pacific. In1946, Croner went to New York where he and Bill Helburn, another former Air Corps photographer, used their G.I. Bill aid to open a small photography studio on West 57th street in Manhattan. Shortly after that, Croner enrolled in Alexey Brodovitch’s photography class at the New School. Perhaps Croner’s best-known work, Taxi – New York Night, 1947-48, was taken while he was a student in Brodovitch’s legendary “design laboratory”. In 1948 Edward Steichen , then the director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, chose to include Croner in two exhibitions at the Museum: “In and Out of Focus” and “Four Photographers” which included three other photographers: Bill Brandt, Harry Callahan and Lisette Model. Other exhibitions of Croner’s work followed. As he continued to accept commercial work at magazines like Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, Croner pursued his own photography, producing vigorously experimental, cinematic images of cafeterias, solitary diners and the city after dark. Interest in Croner’s work was revived with the publication of The New York School, Photographs by Jane Livingston in 1992 which followed the 1985 exhibition of the same name at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC. For the cover of the book, Livingston chose a picture by Croner, “New York at Night, 1948″ which shows a Manhattan skyline reduced to abstract slashes of white light among black tall buildings against a gun-metal gray sky. This was followed by inclusion in the exhibition “By Night” at The Cartier Foundation in Paris in 1996, the Whitney Museum’s 1999 exhibition “American Century Part II” and in 2005, in the exhibition “At The Crossroads of Time: A Times Square Centennial” at the Axa Gallery in New York, and in “Street Seen: The Psychological Gesture in American Photography 1940-1959″ at the Milwaukee Art Museum in 2010.

Bruce Davidson

(American, born 1933) In a career spanning more than half a century, Bruce Davidson is known for his dedication to the documentation of social inequality. Davidson attended Rochester Institute of Technology, as well as Yale University, where he studied with Josef Albers. He was later drafted into the army and stationed near Paris, where he met Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the founders of the renowned cooperative photography agency Magnum Photos. After his military service, Davidson worked as a freelance photographer for Life magazine and, in 1958, became a full member of Magnum. From 1958 to 1961, he created such seminal bodies of work as The Circus and Brooklyn Gang. In 1962, he received a Guggenheim fellowship and immersed himself in documenting the American Civil Rights Movement. In 1963, the Museum of Modern Art in New York presented his early work in a solo exhibition, the first of several. In 1967, Davidson received the first grant for photography from the National Endowment for the Arts. For two years, he focused his lens on the neglected, poverty-stricken block of East 100th Street in Manhattan. The photographs were exhibited at MoMA in 1970, and remain one of his most acclaimed bodies of work. In 1980, he explored the vitality and distress of the New York City subway. From 1991-95 he photographed the landscape and layers of life in Central Park. More recently, he followed this exploration of nature to Paris and Los Angeles, carefully examining the relationship between nature and urban life. Davidson received an Open Society Institute Individual Fellowship in 1998 to return to East 100th Street to document the revitalization and renewal that occurred in the thirty years since he last photographed it. His awards include the Lucie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Documentary Photography in 2004, a Gold Medal Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Arts Club in 2007, the Outstanding Contribution to Photography Award from Sony in 2011, and an honorary doctorate in fine arts from the Corcoran School of Art and Design. Classic bodies of work from his fifty-year career have been extensively published in monographs and are included in major public and private fine art collections around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art and International Center of Photography in New York, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. He currently lives in New York City, and continues to make photographs.

Saul Leiter

(American, 1923-2013) Saul Leiter was born in Pittsburgh, the son of an internationally renowned Talmudic scholar.  Leiter’s interest in art began in his late teens, and though he was encouraged to become a Rabbi like his father, he left theology school and moved to New York to pursue painting at age 23. In New York, he befriended the Abstract Expressionist painter Richard Pousette-Dart, who was experimenting with photography. His friendship with Pousette-Dart and soon after, with W. Eugene Smith, expanded his interest in photography. Leiter’s earliest black and white photographs show an extraordinary affinity for the medium. By the 1950s, he began to work in color as well, compiling an extensive and significant body of work during the medium’s infancy. His distinctively subdued color often has a painterly quality that stood out among the work of his contemporaries.Edward Steichen included twenty-three of Leiter’s black and white photographs in the seminal 1953 exhibition “Always the Young Stranger” at the Museum of Modern Art; he also included twenty of Leiter’s color images in the 1957 MoMA conference “Experimental Photography in Color.” In the late 1950s, the art director Henry Wolf published Leiter’s color fashion work in Esquire and later in Harper’s Bazaar. However, over the next four decades, Leiter’s noncommercial work remained virtually unknown to the wider art world. He continued to work as a fashion photographer through the 1970s, contributing to such publications as in Show, Elle, British Vogue, Queen, and Nova.Leiter is now held to be a pioneer of early color photography, and is noted as one of the outstanding figures in post-war photography. After several exhibitions at Howard Greenberg Gallery throughout the 1990s, Leiter’s work experienced a surge of popularity after a monograph, Early Color, was published by Steidl in 2006. Early Color was followed by a series of monographs and international exhibitions highlighting the depth and scope of his work in photography and painting, beginning with “In Living Color” (2006), his first major retrospective at the Milwaukee Museum of Art. Leiter was the subject of several solo shows thereafter, including the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris; the Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam; Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne; and Diechtorhallen, Hamburg.Leiter’s work is featured in the book The New York School: Photographs 1936-1963 by Jane Livingston and in Appearances: Fashion Photography Since 1945 by Martin Harrison. His work is included in the permanent collections of The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The Art Institute of Chicago; The Baltimore Museum of Art; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, among many other public and private collections. Leiter was the subject of an award-winning documentary by Tomas Leach, titled “In No Great Hurry: 13 Lesson in Life with Saul Leiter” (2012). Saul Leiter continued to paint and photograph until his death in 2013.

Leon Levinstein

(American, 1910-1988) Leon Levinstein was born in Buckhannon, West Virginia and attended college at the Maryland Institute of Arts.  Levinstein remained in Baltimore until he enlisted in the army in 1942, serving mostly in Panama, as a propeller repair mechanic with the Air Corps. Shortly after his discharge from the army, with the rank of a sergeant in October 1945, he moved to New York City to work as an art director in his cousin’s advertising agency. In 1947–48 he studied with John Ebstel and Sid Grossman at the Photo League, and then in 1948–51 with Stuart Davis and Alexey Brodovitch at the New School for Social Research. He studied with Grossman for another three years. In the 1950s and 1960s, his work was published extensively in major magazines such as Popular Photography and U.S. Camera Annual, and won Popular Photography 1952’s International Photography Contest. In 1956, Levinstein exhibited at Helen Gee’s Limelight Gallery, the only solo show during his lifetime. Both Alexey Brodovitch, artistic director of Harper’s Bazaar, and Edward Steichen, renowned photographer and curator at the Museum of Modern Art recognized Levinstein’s talent; Levinstein’s photographs were included in nine group shows at the Museum of Modern Art. Levinstein rarely worked on assignment and never made photography books. He earned his living as a graphic designer, not as a professional photographer, and generally remained aloof from the art world (he received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1975). This lack of broader recognition did nothing to slow him down, and he continued to photograph throughout his life.Levinstein’s work has a graphic virtuosity, using raw gestures and monumental bodies, balancing compassion and cruelty painting with shadows and light, portraying gently and directly the inhabitants of the streets he roams. He would skulk through crowds, blend in, and observe things that others would miss. Photographing strangers at close range, Levinstein captured the back alleys of New York City framing the faces, flesh, poses, and movements of his fellow city dwellers: couples, kids, beggars, prostitutes, families, society ladies, and sunbathers. Levinstein is best known for his candid and unsentimental black-and-white figure studies made in New York City neighborhoods from Times Square and the Lower East Side to Coney Island and Harlem.

Louis Faurer

(American, 1916-2001) Louis Faurer was born to immigrant parents from the Russian/Polish border and spent his early years in South Philadelphia.  After graduating from the South Philadelphia High School for Boys in 1934, he spent a few summers as caricature artist in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Inscriptions of all sorts fascinated him, and he began studying at Philadelphia’s School of Commercial Art and Lettering in 1937. He also worked freelance–painting advertising signs and lettering posters. That same year, Faurer purchased his first camera, a used 35mm Kodak Vollenda.  Shortly thereafter, he won a prize in a weekly photo contest of the Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger.  Faurer never attended classes in photography, except for a brief course he took in the military (from 1941-1945, he was a civilian photographer for U.S. Army Signal Corps, Philadelphia).In the late 1940s, Faurer and several of his colleagues from Philadelphia opened studios in New York. Like many photographers of his generation, Faurer sought employment working for magazines, but unlike his photojournalist peers, who pursued careers at such publications as Life magazine, he gravitated toward fashion photography. In 1947, Lillian Bassman, the first art director of the short-lived Junior Bazaar (later incorporated into Harper’s Bazaar), invited him to join the magazine’s staff. The new magazine also hired Robert Frank, a recent immigrant from Switzerland, and the two immediately struck up a friendship that would last for fifty years.Faurer was a key member of the New York School of street photographers active from the 1930s to the 1950s. A loosely defined group that included Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, and William Klein, the New York School chose city life as its subject, preferred 35mm cameras, and rejected traditional documentary styles.During the 1950s, he began to focus more on his professional assignments than on his own personal street photography, working steadily for magazines such as Glamour, Charm, and Seventeen, Vogue and Mademoiselle. He created most of his fashion photographs in the studio.In 1968, Faurer moved to London and then to Paris to escape trouble with the Internal Revenue Service and conflict with his wife. He returned to street photography in Paris, but his photographs from this period lack the clarity of vision that marks his work from the 1930s through the early 1950s. When he returned from Europe in 1974, he tried to resume photographing the streets of New York, but both he and the city had changed.  In the fall of 1984, as he was exiting a bus, Faurer was struck by a car. This serious injury effectively ended his career as a photographer. He died in 2001 in New York.