Sunday, October 25, 2015

Jacob Riis' New York

MOMA has a nice little Jacob Riis collection.

In 1870, when 21-year-old Jacob August Riis immigrated to America from 
Denmark on the steamship Iowa, he rode in steerage with nothing but the 
clothes on his back, 40 borrowed dollars in his pocket, and a locket 
containing a single hair from the girl he loved.

Unable to find a steady job, he worked as a farmhand, ironworker, brick-
layer, carpenter, and salesman, and experienced the worst aspects of 
American urbanism--crime, sickness, squalor--in the low-rent tenements 
and lodging houses that would eventually inspire the young Danish 
immigrant to dedicate himself to improving living conditions for the city’s 
Riis wanted to show the the world the dehumanizing dangers of the 
immigrant neighborhoods he knew all too well. He taught himself 
photography and began taking a camera with him on his nightly rounds 
through the slums of New York. The recent invention of flash photography 
made it possible to document the dark, over-crowded tenements, grim 
saloons and dangerous slums. Riis’s pioneering use of flash photography 
brought to light even the darkest parts of the city. Used in articles, books, 
and lectures, his striking compositions became powerful tools for social 

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