Exhibit Exalts New York's Early Radical Photographers : The Picture Show Though you may not be familiar with the Photo League, as the group was called, you've probably seen the work of its photographers.
NPR logo Exhibit Exalts New York's Early Radical Photographers

Exhibit Exalts New York's Early Radical Photographers

In 1936, a bunch of young, idealistic photographers got together with a notion that they could provoke social reform through imagery. They turned their cameras mostly on the streets of New York — on shoemakers and street urchins and crowds at Coney Island.

Though you may not be familiar with the Photo League, as the group was called, you've likely seen the work of its photographers: Lewis Hine made iconic images of child labor and the construction of the Empire State Building, for example; and Dorothea Lange captured the famous Migrant Mother.

Steamfitter, 1920 Lewis Hine/Howard Greenberg Gallery/The Jewish Museum hide caption

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Lewis Hine/Howard Greenberg Gallery/The Jewish Museum

Many of the most noted mid-20th century photographers were members: Berenice Abbott, W. Eugene Smith, Ansel Adams, etc. After being blacklisted, the League was forced to disband in 1951 under pressure of the Second Red Scare. But today, the photographers are having a reunion in the form of a comprehensive exhibition. The Radical Camera is a collaboration between New York City's Jewish Museum and the Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio.

Over the course of the League's 15-year existence, members saw the Great Depression, the New Deal, World War II and finally the Red Scare. They captured moments of levity and of darkness, both private and public. Above all, the League fostered conversations and collaborations that, in many ways, would set the standards of documentary photography for decades to come.

The Radical Camera: New York's Photo League, 1936-1951 opens Friday and will run through March.