Thursday, June 1, 2017

Reflections on a World After War

“Using my camera helped me understand my roots and the times in which I lived.”[1]
- N. Jay Jaffee

GW’s Collection includes a strong selection of numerous postwar American photographers of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, including Louis Faurer (1916-2001), N. Jay Jaffee (1921-1999), Louis Stettner (1922-2016), and Todd Webb (1905-2000). The four were contemporaries and their photographs share many of the same characteristics: capturing the everyday life of urban dwellers in New York, Philadelphia, London, and Paris. While researching these artists for our current exhibition, REFLECT: Photography Looking Forward, Looking Back, we found that, like most Americans, each served in some capacity – whether military or civilian – during World War II. In honor of Blue Star Museums and Memorial Day, we decided to put these photographers and their photographs in the context of their war and postwar experiences.

These four photographers were nearly the same age and grew up in the same era, along with a number of other postwar American photographers and visual artists. As Lisa Hostetler has noted, this group bridged the gap between the sentimental, documentary photography of the 1930s and the abstract photography that would become popular in later decades.[2] Each one used techniques and strategies made popular by photojournalists during the war for their own means.[3] While the Spanish Civil War was the first conflict in Europe to attract the attention of skilled photographers to document it, the destruction of the Second World War was unprecedented.[4] Images of liberated concentration camps, terrifying images of the new atomic weapon and its power, as well as the rising tensions with Russia contributed to the trauma and anxiety in the postwar America that these veterans and photographers returned to.[5] As co-founder of the Photo League in New York, Sid Grossman told his students there to practice “photography as an act of living.”[6] Indeed Jaffee, Faurer, Stettner, and Webb all imbued their photographs with something of the personal, even while documenting the everyday lives of other people.

Louis Stettner, The Reading Wall, Paris, 1951.
Gelatin silver print. 12 x 10 inches. GW Collection.
Gift of Lawrence Benenson, 1983.
Primarily known for his photographs of New York and Paris, Louis Stettner spent the better part of his life moving back and forth between the two cities, documenting ordinary people in their everyday activities, focusing on the middle class. During the war, he served as an Army combat photographer in New Guinea, the Philippines, and Japan. Stettner used the camera, he once wrote, as “my personal language for telling people what I was discovering, suffering or immensely joyous about.”[7] While his photographs reflect his own feelings about his subjects, today they also serve as a reflection of these places in a time gone by. The Reading Wall, Paris (1951) shows an elderly man, a bit hunched over, reading the pages of a newspaper posted to a wall in Paris. Upon closer inspection, these pages appear to be from the Communist-affiliated newspaper L’Humanité. A decade earlier, he would not have been openly reading this paper, as the French government had taken steps to ban its publication as a result of the non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union just prior to World War II.[8] Published secretly by the party until the liberation of Paris in 1944, the newspaper was at the height of its popularity in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, when this photo was taken and the French Communist Party was the dominant party of the left.[9]

N. Jay Jaffee, Man with Sun Reflector (East New York),
1952 (print date unknown). Gelatin silver print, ed. 
18/25, 10 x 8 inches. GW Collection. Gift of Lawrence 
Benenson, 1982.
Like Stettner, N. Jay Jaffee had also served during the war, but he only took up photography in 1947, after he had returned, as a way of dealing with the things he had experienced and the post-war climate: “I was one of those veterans who, after three years of army duty that included six months of combat in the European theater, came home with the naïve impression that the world was going to have a more peaceful future.”[10] His photographs also tend to capture people in their everyday activities, such as Man with Sun Reflector (1952), of which he remarked: “I was startled when I saw this man sunning himself with a metal reflector. This was the first I saw this contraption being used. Also, it was not often that I came across a person whom I wanted to photograph that just happened to be in a perfect design pattern… I made this exposure in a matter of seconds and quickly walked away, hoping that I did not interfere with his dreams.”[11]


Louis Faurer, Staten Island Ferry, 1946,
1946, (printed c. 1981). Gelatin silver print,
7-3/4 x 7-1/2 inches. GW Collection.
Gift of Gary Granoff, Esq., 1984.
Louis Faurer had already decided that he would pursue photography as a career before serving as a civilian photographic technician for the U. S. Army Signal Corps in his hometown of Philadelphia during the war.[12] In his photographs people are surrogates for himself, suggests Lisa Hostetler; he not only empathizes with them, but identifies with them.[13] His tendency to include his own reflection in a number of photographs belies the personal nature and projection of his own identity as seen through others in his photographs.[14] He often used reflections, double exposures, and sandwiched negatives to convey the complications of urban life in postwar America. Some images, however, existed without these interventions, such as Staten Island Ferry (1946).[15] Occasionally he gave this photograph the title I Once Dreamed About the Most Beautiful City in the World, Staten Island Ferry, which Anne Wilkes Tucker suggests refers to both the beauty of the New York skyline as reflected in the ferry window and to the anticipation of arriving in the city “on the part of an immigrant’s son.”[16] Although he is perhaps more well-known as a fashion photographer, the style that made his fashion photographs unique was cultivated during these explorations of New York and its people.[17]

Todd Webb, London, 1948. Gelatin silver
print, 8-1/2 x 6-1/2 inches. GW Collection. 
Gift of Lawrence Benenson, 1982.
Todd Webb served as a photographer’s mate in the U.S. Navy ­– just one in a long list of careers he had tried by that time, including working as a prospector for gold in California and for Chrysler in Detroit after having lost all his money in the 1929 stock market crash.[18] Just a year after he returned from the South Pacific, in 1945, however, he had his first exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York thanks in part to having sold three of his photographs at Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery, An American Place, in 1942 on his way to report for duty.[19] His return to New York brought new subjects to photograph, including the welcome-home messages greeting other veterans as they returned home. Signs were a favorite subject and he photographed numerous billboards, advertisements and shop windows.[20] In addition to photographing New York after the war, Webb also traveled to Paris and London. The GW Collection includes a number of photographs from his travels, including London (1948), which shows a soldier of The Queen’s Life Guard standing at attention with a crowd of people around him. The white plume and shiny cuirass that he wears are characteristic of the uniform and this breastplate also shows the reflection of another crowd of people across the street. As the highest rank of the British Army The Queen’s Life Guards also took part in the D-Day landings at Normandy. Though the location is not certain, it is possible that this was taken outside Buckingham Palace. While the Queen’s Foot Guards (those soldiers in red tunics and bear skin hats) typically guard the Palace, Webb notes that this photo was taken in August 1948 and during August, the protection of the Palace may be taken over by other regiments. In addition, the Summer Olympics (also nicknamed the “Austerity Games”) were held in London in 1948, the first games to be held since the 1936 games in Berlin. It is also possible that the guard in standing at attention in his ceremonial uniform for some event connected to the games.  

While some of the photographs here depict literal, physical reflections, others touch upon another meaning of the word “reflect” – to think deeply or carefully about, to consider, review, or mull over - and some represent both simultaneously. Placing these in the context of postwar America and Europe gives new appreciation to the reasons why these photographers turned their cameras to capture the everyday experiences of those that came through such a tumultuous time. Through their eyes, the ordinary became extraordinary.

By Michelle Mazzuchi, Exhibitions and Collections Coordinator

REFLECT: Photography Looking Forward, Looking Back
is on view at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery through July 7, 2017. For more information, visit www.gwu.edu/~bradyart.


[1] N. Jay Jaffee, “Reflections: My Early Photographs,” September 17, 1996. <http://njayjaffee.com> Accessed 12 April 2017.
[2] Lisa Hostetler, Street Seen: The Psychological Gesture in American Photography, 1940-1959. Published on the occasion of the exhibition, Street Seen: The Psychological Gesture in American Photography, 1940-1959, held at the Milwaukee Art Museum, January 30 – April 25, 2010. (New York: Prestel, 2010) 21.
[3] Hostetler, 25.
[4] Hostetler, 53.
[5] Hostetler, 60.
[6] Quoted in Hostetler, 63.
[7] Grimes, William. “Louis Stettner, Who Photographed the Everyday New York and Paris, Dies at 93,” The New York Times, October 14, 2016. <https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/15/arts/design/louis-stettner-dead.html?_r=0> Accessed 13 April 2017.
[8] “Historical development of the media in France” (PDF). McGraw-Hill Education, from The Media in Contemporary France by Raymond Kuhn, 2011, Open University Press, Berkshire, England. <http://www.mheducation.co.uk/openup/chap­ters/9780335236220.pdf> Accessed 12 April 2017.
[9] “L'Humanité,” Wikipedia. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L’Humanit%C3%A9> Accessed 12 April 2017.
[10] N. Jay Jaffee. “The Photo League: A Memoir,” August, 1994. <http://njayjaffee.com> Accessed 12 April 2017.
[11] Jaffee, “Reflections: My Early Photographs.”
[12] “Faurer, Louis.” Museum of Contemporary Photography. Website. <http://www.mocp.org/detail.php?type=related&kv=7100&t=people> Accessed 12 April 2017.
[13] Hostetler, 83.
[14] Hostetler, 83.
[15] Anne Wilkes Tucker; Lisa Hostetler; Kathleen V. Jameson. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Louis Faurer. Published on the occasion of the exhibition, Louis Faurer Retrospective, held at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, January 13 – April 14, 2002 and at four other museums through Sept. 7, 2003. (New York: Rizzoli, 2002) 27.
[16] Tucker, 27.
[17] Hostetler, p. 75, footnote 55.
[18] Justin Porter. “Signs of Life in Todd Webb’s New York,” The New York Times, April 14, 2017. <https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/14/nyregion/todd-webb-photographer.html> Accessed 2 May 2017.
[19] Porter.
[20] Porter.

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Howard Hodgkin: Paintings - May 16, 2012

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Reflections on a World After War

“Using my camera helped me understand my roots and the times in which I lived.”[1]
- N. Jay Jaffee

GW’s Collection includes a strong selection of numerous postwar American photographers of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, including Louis Faurer (1916-2001), N. Jay Jaffee (1921-1999), Louis Stettner (1922-2016), and Todd Webb (1905-2000). The four were contemporaries and their photographs share many of the same characteristics: capturing the everyday life of urban dwellers in New York, Philadelphia, London, and Paris. While researching these artists for our current exhibition, REFLECT: Photography Looking Forward, Looking Back, we found that, like most Americans, each served in some capacity – whether military or civilian – during World War II. In honor of Blue Star Museums and Memorial Day, we decided to put these photographers and their photographs in the context of their war and postwar experiences.

These four photographers were nearly the same age and grew up in the same era, along with a number of other postwar American photographers and visual artists. As Lisa Hostetler has noted, this group bridged the gap between the sentimental, documentary photography of the 1930s and the abstract photography that would become popular in later decades.[2] Each one used techniques and strategies made popular by photojournalists during the war for their own means.[3] While the Spanish Civil War was the first conflict in Europe to attract the attention of skilled photographers to document it, the destruction of the Second World War was unprecedented.[4] Images of liberated concentration camps, terrifying images of the new atomic weapon and its power, as well as the rising tensions with Russia contributed to the trauma and anxiety in the postwar America that these veterans and photographers returned to.[5] As co-founder of the Photo League in New York, Sid Grossman told his students there to practice “photography as an act of living.”[6] Indeed Jaffee, Faurer, Stettner, and Webb all imbued their photographs with something of the personal, even while documenting the everyday lives of other people.

Louis Stettner, The Reading Wall, Paris, 1951.
Gelatin silver print. 12 x 10 inches. GW Collection.
Gift of Lawrence Benenson, 1983.
Primarily known for his photographs of New York and Paris, Louis Stettner spent the better part of his life moving back and forth between the two cities, documenting ordinary people in their everyday activities, focusing on the middle class. During the war, he served as an Army combat photographer in New Guinea, the Philippines, and Japan. Stettner used the camera, he once wrote, as “my personal language for telling people what I was discovering, suffering or immensely joyous about.”[7] While his photographs reflect his own feelings about his subjects, today they also serve as a reflection of these places in a time gone by. The Reading Wall, Paris (1951) shows an elderly man, a bit hunched over, reading the pages of a newspaper posted to a wall in Paris. Upon closer inspection, these pages appear to be from the Communist-affiliated newspaper L’Humanité. A decade earlier, he would not have been openly reading this paper, as the French government had taken steps to ban its publication as a result of the non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union just prior to World War II.[8] Published secretly by the party until the liberation of Paris in 1944, the newspaper was at the height of its popularity in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, when this photo was taken and the French Communist Party was the dominant party of the left.[9]

N. Jay Jaffee, Man with Sun Reflector (East New York),
1952 (print date unknown). Gelatin silver print, ed. 
18/25, 10 x 8 inches. GW Collection. Gift of Lawrence 
Benenson, 1982.
Like Stettner, N. Jay Jaffee had also served during the war, but he only took up photography in 1947, after he had returned, as a way of dealing with the things he had experienced and the post-war climate: “I was one of those veterans who, after three years of army duty that included six months of combat in the European theater, came home with the naïve impression that the world was going to have a more peaceful future.”[10] His photographs also tend to capture people in their everyday activities, such as Man with Sun Reflector (1952), of which he remarked: “I was startled when I saw this man sunning himself with a metal reflector. This was the first I saw this contraption being used. Also, it was not often that I came across a person whom I wanted to photograph that just happened to be in a perfect design pattern… I made this exposure in a matter of seconds and quickly walked away, hoping that I did not interfere with his dreams.”[11]


Louis Faurer, Staten Island Ferry, 1946,
1946, (printed c. 1981). Gelatin silver print,
7-3/4 x 7-1/2 inches. GW Collection.
Gift of Gary Granoff, Esq., 1984.
Louis Faurer had already decided that he would pursue photography as a career before serving as a civilian photographic technician for the U. S. Army Signal Corps in his hometown of Philadelphia during the war.[12] In his photographs people are surrogates for himself, suggests Lisa Hostetler; he not only empathizes with them, but identifies with them.[13] His tendency to include his own reflection in a number of photographs belies the personal nature and projection of his own identity as seen through others in his photographs.[14] He often used reflections, double exposures, and sandwiched negatives to convey the complications of urban life in postwar America. Some images, however, existed without these interventions, such as Staten Island Ferry (1946).[15] Occasionally he gave this photograph the title I Once Dreamed About the Most Beautiful City in the World, Staten Island Ferry, which Anne Wilkes Tucker suggests refers to both the beauty of the New York skyline as reflected in the ferry window and to the anticipation of arriving in the city “on the part of an immigrant’s son.”[16] Although he is perhaps more well-known as a fashion photographer, the style that made his fashion photographs unique was cultivated during these explorations of New York and its people.[17]

Todd Webb, London, 1948. Gelatin silver
print, 8-1/2 x 6-1/2 inches. GW Collection. 
Gift of Lawrence Benenson, 1982.
Todd Webb served as a photographer’s mate in the U.S. Navy ­– just one in a long list of careers he had tried by that time, including working as a prospector for gold in California and for Chrysler in Detroit after having lost all his money in the 1929 stock market crash.[18] Just a year after he returned from the South Pacific, in 1945, however, he had his first exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York thanks in part to having sold three of his photographs at Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery, An American Place, in 1942 on his way to report for duty.[19] His return to New York brought new subjects to photograph, including the welcome-home messages greeting other veterans as they returned home. Signs were a favorite subject and he photographed numerous billboards, advertisements and shop windows.[20] In addition to photographing New York after the war, Webb also traveled to Paris and London. The GW Collection includes a number of photographs from his travels, including London (1948), which shows a soldier of The Queen’s Life Guard standing at attention with a crowd of people around him. The white plume and shiny cuirass that he wears are characteristic of the uniform and this breastplate also shows the reflection of another crowd of people across the street. As the highest rank of the British Army The Queen’s Life Guards also took part in the D-Day landings at Normandy. Though the location is not certain, it is possible that this was taken outside Buckingham Palace. While the Queen’s Foot Guards (those soldiers in red tunics and bear skin hats) typically guard the Palace, Webb notes that this photo was taken in August 1948 and during August, the protection of the Palace may be taken over by other regiments. In addition, the Summer Olympics (also nicknamed the “Austerity Games”) were held in London in 1948, the first games to be held since the 1936 games in Berlin. It is also possible that the guard in standing at attention in his ceremonial uniform for some event connected to the games.  

While some of the photographs here depict literal, physical reflections, others touch upon another meaning of the word “reflect” – to think deeply or carefully about, to consider, review, or mull over - and some represent both simultaneously. Placing these in the context of postwar America and Europe gives new appreciation to the reasons why these photographers turned their cameras to capture the everyday experiences of those that came through such a tumultuous time. Through their eyes, the ordinary became extraordinary.

By Michelle Mazzuchi, Exhibitions and Collections Coordinator

REFLECT: Photography Looking Forward, Looking Back
is on view at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery through July 7, 2017. For more information, visit www.gwu.edu/~bradyart.


[1] N. Jay Jaffee, “Reflections: My Early Photographs,” September 17, 1996. <http://njayjaffee.com> Accessed 12 April 2017.
[2] Lisa Hostetler, Street Seen: The Psychological Gesture in American Photography, 1940-1959. Published on the occasion of the exhibition, Street Seen: The Psychological Gesture in American Photography, 1940-1959, held at the Milwaukee Art Museum, January 30 – April 25, 2010. (New York: Prestel, 2010) 21.
[3] Hostetler, 25.
[4] Hostetler, 53.
[5] Hostetler, 60.
[6] Quoted in Hostetler, 63.
[7] Grimes, William. “Louis Stettner, Who Photographed the Everyday New York and Paris, Dies at 93,” The New York Times, October 14, 2016. <https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/15/arts/design/louis-stettner-dead.html?_r=0> Accessed 13 April 2017.
[8] “Historical development of the media in France” (PDF). McGraw-Hill Education, from The Media in Contemporary France by Raymond Kuhn, 2011, Open University Press, Berkshire, England. <http://www.mheducation.co.uk/openup/chap­ters/9780335236220.pdf> Accessed 12 April 2017.
[9] “L'Humanité,” Wikipedia. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L’Humanit%C3%A9> Accessed 12 April 2017.
[10] N. Jay Jaffee. “The Photo League: A Memoir,” August, 1994. <http://njayjaffee.com> Accessed 12 April 2017.
[11] Jaffee, “Reflections: My Early Photographs.”
[12] “Faurer, Louis.” Museum of Contemporary Photography. Website. <http://www.mocp.org/detail.php?type=related&kv=7100&t=people> Accessed 12 April 2017.
[13] Hostetler, 83.
[14] Hostetler, 83.
[15] Anne Wilkes Tucker; Lisa Hostetler; Kathleen V. Jameson. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Louis Faurer. Published on the occasion of the exhibition, Louis Faurer Retrospective, held at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, January 13 – April 14, 2002 and at four other museums through Sept. 7, 2003. (New York: Rizzoli, 2002) 27.
[16] Tucker, 27.
[17] Hostetler, p. 75, footnote 55.
[18] Justin Porter. “Signs of Life in Todd Webb’s New York,” The New York Times, April 14, 2017. <https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/14/nyregion/todd-webb-photographer.html> Accessed 2 May 2017.
[19] Porter.
[20] Porter.

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Washington, District of Columbia, United States
"Found In Collection" or simply "FIC" is the way many museums classify the more mysterious items in their possession that have little or no documentation. Here at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery of the George Washington University, we do keep extensive records of our collection, but some of the items we come across in academic buildings or our own storage can leave us wondering. This blog is an effort to showcase some of the more curious examples and their stories, and to provide a glimpse of the great variety of art pieces within the collection. To learn more about the Brady Gallery's history, recent exhibitions, or the George Washington University, take a look at the links below.

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