The Radical Camera: New York's Photo League, 1936–1951
The Radical Camera: New York's Photo League, 1936–1951 is the first comprehensive museum survey in three decades of the famed photography group’s work, history, artistic significance, and cultural, social, and political milieu. Drawing from two extensive Photo League museum collections housed at The Jewish Museum in New York City and the Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio, the exhibition includes 150 vintage photographs by more than sixty Photo League members.
The members’ solidarity centered on a belief in the expressive power of the documentary photograph and on a progressive alliance in the 1930s of social activism and art. They rejected the prevailing style of modernism in order to engage the gritty realities of urban life. Leaguers focused on the urban environment, and this meant looking closely at ordinary people. That impulse spurred them to explore their own New York neighborhoods, street by street, camera at the ready.
But the work of the Photo League was more than just social commentary. Members championed a photography that was as much aesthetic as social-minded, and this dual identity defines the League’s progressivism in a unique way. The League was a place where you learned about yourself. One of its leading members and teachers, Sid Grossman, pushed students to discover not only the meaning of their work but also their relationship to it. For many of these predominantly Jewish, working-class and first-generation Americans, New York City was their own story, a place not just to bear witness, but to determine one’s own bearings. This transformative, personalized approach was one of the League’s most innovative and influential contributions to the medium.
The Radical Camera: New York's Photo League, 1936-1951 has been organized by The Jewish Museum, New York and the Columbus Museum of Art.
The exhibition is made possible by a major grant from the Phillip and Edith Leonian Foundation, with generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts and Betsy Karel.
The Koret and Taube Foundations are the Lead Supporters of the 2012/13 exhibition season.