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The Radical Camera: New York's Photo League, 1936-1951

The Jewish Museum in New York has opened a new exhibit this month in collaboration with the Columbus Museum of Art Ohio entitled ‘The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League, 1936-1951.’ This display is exhibiting over 150 works from various members of the league documenting key historical events, people and places.


New York’s Photo League was founded in 1936 in Manhattan by a collective of radical individuals who became interested in the social and aesthetic importance of capturing people and places on film.
The leagues history covered three pivotal periods in American history: The Depression, World War II and the Cold War.


With the introduction of 35mm hand held cameras in the 1920s people were able to capture and produce photographs with greater ease, which by the 1930s allowed the photo league considerably more freedom than had been experienced before with their documentary style photography.


As well as recording life around New York, the league also produced an innovative newsletter, Photo Notes that promoted the discussion not only on photographic techniques but also the place of photography in society as well as holding photo hunt competitions where members would have to travel ’round the city to complete assignments (an early precursor of Lomography rumbles perhaps?).
The society however encountered problems in the 40s with the Red Scare when they were named as a communist group with one of their leading members, Sid Grossman being accused of using the group as a front for communist activities. By 1951, after such accusations, the league could no longer sustain itself and was forced to dissolve on the 30th of October 1951.


During its time, the league made significant contributions to documentary photography in that they explored the implications socially of taking photographs and the relationship between the photographs and their subjects and the photographers. The exhibition is running till the 25th of March 2012 after which it will begin touring.


More information on the league and its members can be found in The Jewish Museum’s website.

written by marthasmarvels

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