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Bearing Witness: The New York Photo League and Sonia Handelman Meyer

Bearing Witness: The New York Photo League and Sonia Handelman Meyer

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Title of Accompanying Exhibition: Bearing Witness : The New York PHoto League and Sonia Handelman Meyer

Dates of Exhibition: 11/23/2013 - 6/29/2013

Author : Amber Smith and Lili Corbus, Ph.D.

Published by : The Mint Museum

Pages : 96 Softcover

A catalogue of the exhibition, Bearing Witness: The New York Photo League and Sonia Handelman Meyer, comprises approximately 100 photographs by Photo League members. The Photo League was established in New York City in 1936 by a group of young, inspired photographers and consisted of a school, darkroom, gallery, and meeting place. However, it was also a place where photographers learned about their position in the world, both as artists and as people. Their dedication to social imagery led photographers into their own neighborhoods, exploring the streets with their cameras, and capturing the lives of ordinary people as they had never before been depicted.

The exhibition features a special spotlight on the work of Sonia Handelman Meyer. Born in Lakewood, New Jersey in 1920, Meyer spent most of her life in New York City. She was introduced to the Photo League in 1943 and remained a member until its closure in 1951. Like the other members of the Photo League, Meyer was equally concerned with making meaningful images that could affect social and political change, and she began taking photos of the people and city around her.

The photographs presented in this exhibition underscore Meyer’s concern with social justice and her humanist approach to documenting her subjects. By the late 1940s, the heightened anti-liberal social and political climate of the McCarthy Era had placed the group in a precarious situation, listed by the Attorney General as a “subversive organization.” In this hostile environment of blacklisting and accusations, membership declined and the Photo League was ultimately forced to disband in 1951. However, in the 15 years of its existence, the Photo League had expanded and revolutionized what documentary photography could be, moving away from purely objective imagery into more challenging arenas of life that would have lasting resonance.

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