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New York Photo League and Documentary Style Photography

The New York Film and Photo League, founded in 1930, was one of many Depression-era groups established to record the effects of the economic collapse and encourage social change. After emphasizing documentary film making in its early years, in 1936 the New York organization split into several factions. The still photographers of the original group, under the direction of Sid Grossman and Sol Libsohn, reformed that year simply as the Photo League. The members presented classes, lectures, and exhibitions, and published a regular newsletter titled Photo Notes.

Artists in the Photo League were known for a documentary style that focused on compelling moments from everyday life. Prominent Photo League members included Walter Rosenblum, Lisette Model, Aaron Siskind, Morris Engel, Ruth Orkin, Louis Stettner, Jerome Liebling, Dan Weiner, Consuelo Kanaga, and Max Yavno. Many other photographers during this period shared the League’s commitment to social action. They also focused on the vibrant street life of urban centers as well as the efforts of laborers in rural areas. Many of the images are beautiful; they also project strong social commentaries on issues of class, child labor, and opportunity.

© 1981, Helen Levitt
© 1981, Helen Levitt
© Dan Weiner. Courtesy of Sandra Weiner
© 1970, Jerome Liebling
© 1970, Jerome Liebling
© 1955, Arnold Eagle
© 1990, Eliot Elisofon Collection
© 1938, Morris Engel
©Miriam Grossman Cohen, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York
© 1948, Estate of Ruth Orkin
©Miriam Grossman Cohen, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York
© 1978, Stuart E. Karu
© 1978, Stuart E. Karu