The Contemporary Jewish Museum presents The Radical Camera: New York's Photo League, 1936-1951, the first comprehensive museum survey in three decades of the famed photography group’s work, its history, artistic significance, and cultural, social, and political milieu. Drawing from two great 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 some of the most noted photographers of the mid-twentieth century—Consuelo Kanaga, Weegee, Lisette Model, Berenice Abbott, Aaron Siskind, and many others. Visitors will also be able to view excerpts from the award-winning 1953 film Little Fugitive by League members Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin and a 2011 documentary (Ordinary Miracles: The Photo League’s New York, courtesy Daedalus Productions, Inc.), as well as newsreels and ephemera.
The innovative contributions of the Photo League during its fifteen-year existence were significant. As it grew, the League would mirror monumental shifts in the world starting with the Depression, through World War II, and ending with the Red Scare. Born of the worker’s movement, the Photo League was an organization of young, idealistic photographers, most of them Jewish, first-generation Americans, who believed in documentary photography as an expressive medium and powerful tool for exposing social problems. It was also a school with teachers such as Sid Grossman, who encouraged students to take their cameras to the streets and discover the meaning of their work as well as their relationship to it.
Artists in the Photo League were known for capturing sharply revealing, compelling moments from everyday life. Their focus centered on New York City and its vibrant streets—a shoeshine boy, a brass band on a bustling corner, a crowded beach at Coney Island. Many of the images are beautiful, yet harbor strong social commentary on issues of class, child labor, and opportunity. The Radical Camera exhibition explores the fascinating blend of aesthetics and social activism at the heart of the Photo League.
The Radical Camera: New York's Photo League, 1936-1951 has been organized by The Jewish Museum and the Columbus Museum of Art. Major support was provided by the Phillip and Edith Leonian Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.