Monday, February 25, 2008

Recovering the Complex Legacy of the Photographer Jacob Riis

by VERLYN KLINKENBORG @ The New York Times

If you have seen any of Jacob Riis’s photographs, you have probably never forgotten them. Riis was the Danish-born police reporter who in the late 1880s brought magnesium-flash photography into some of the darkest and most troubled spots in New York City — the tenements near Mulberry Bend, where Columbus Park now stands. New immigrants were crushed together there in some of the worst squalor and highest population densities ever recorded on this planet

By Riis’s time, social and political reform efforts had been going on for half a century, but to little effect. What made the difference was his photographs, which Riis used in popular lectures and in his best-selling book, “How the Other Half Lives,” published in 1890, five years before the Mulberry Bend tenements were finally torn down.


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