The Jewish Museum will premiere a photo series Friday called The Radical Camera: New York's Photo League 1936-1951, a tribute to a group of photographers, most of them recent Jewish immigrants, who set out to document the gorgeous, gritty realities of New York in the early 20th century.
In 1936, a press release by the museum reads, a group of young, idealistic photographers, most of them Jewish, first-generation Americans, formed an organization in Manhattan called the Photo League. Members of the League rejected the modernist style of the time to champion realism, exploring ordinary people and everyday neighborhoods day by day.
The League's headquarters was combination school, darkroom, gallery and salon, where photographers explored both their art and the world reflected within and changed by it. One of its leading members, Sid Grossman, pushed students and eventual peers to examine not only the meaning of their work, but their relationship to it, causing a shift from, as The Jewish Museum notes, bearing witness to questioning one's own bearings in the world.
By the time the League dissolved in 1951, the organization had become known throughout New York and the American art world for combining the expressive might of documentary photography with the progressive, often socialist-leaning causes of the photographers themselves. Most images are beautiful. Some are stark. Almost all note the disparities of class, race and opportunity in New York City, while still embracing its ordinary, day-by-day wonders.
The Radical Camera shows the New York Photo League's journey, and that of America, through the Great Depression, the New Deal, World War II and into the opening acts of the Cold War. Explore these amazing photos in advance of the exhibit's opening on Friday (the show closes March 25), and dive into the world of a byegone New York.