The Foundation’s current exhibit, Displayed: Stages For Sculpture, was drawn from our collection of over 1,000 archival photographs and highlights how photographers participated in the portrayal of sculpture during the twentieth century. Almost all of the photographers featured in the installation belonged to the influential New York-based group known as the Photo League, including Eliot Elisofon, Walter Rosenblum, Arnold Newman, Rudy Burckhardt, Harold Corsini, and Arnold Eagle.
The cooperative group, which shared darkroom space and materials, and held classes and joint exhibitions, began as the communist-associated Film and Photo League in 1930. The group’s focus was to provide coverage of communist, labor, and workers’ events for left-wing magazines. In 1936 the still-photographers split off into their own group, renamed the Photo League, led by Berenice Abbott and Paul Strand.
A highlight of Displayed: Stages for Sculpture are images by famed Life Magazine staff photographer Eliot Elisofon. Elisofon was President of the Photo League from 1938-39. His photos in the exhibition document the stages of Chaim Gross’s large-scale temporary sculpture Harvest commissioned for public display on the facade of the France Overseas building at the New York World’s Fair of 1939-40.
Here’s Elisofon’s shot of assistants on a break, with the heroic male figure of Gross’s sculptural group lying on the ground before them, in a strikingly un-monumental position:
Elisofon’s theatrical photograph of Gross at work on the sculptural group’s young boy again plays with the heroic scale of monumental sculpture, in a juxtaposition of the figure’s large size with the small-scale maquette at left:
And here’s a more straightforward shot by Walter J. Russell, showing Gross’s work in its finished state on the outside of the France Overseas building. It throws into relief the theatricality and personality infused in Eliosfon’s more dramatic images:
Work by Elisofon’s sometimes darkroom assistant Walter Rosenblum is also featured in the exhibition. Rosenblum was also a Photo League member, serving as office secretary and President of the League between 1941 and 1948. His work for the group was interrupted when he was drafted in 1943. In Europe Rosenblum photographed the Normandy invasion and the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp.
After the war, Rosenblum also worked for Chaim Gross, tenderly photographing sculptures such as this alabaster Seated Figure on view in the exhibition:
More of the photographers in the exhibition will be featured in an upcoming blog. The Foundation’s exhibit is on view until December 16; you can read a recent review of the show in the Wall Street Journal. You’ll also be able to view work by Elisofon and Rosenblum in an upcoming exhibition at The Jewish Museum in New York, The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League, 1936 – 1951, opening November 4th.