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Photo League

About this term

Source: Oxford University Press

American organization of photographers founded in New York in 1936. It was an offshoot of the earlier radical Film and Photo League, and its members were dedicated to urban social imagery. At first they saw the camera as a weapon in the social and political struggles of the time, but towards the end of the 1930s their outlook broadened, although they remained strongly committed to documentary photography. Photo League members later included many renowned photographers whose only common bond was their devotion to the medium as an expressive visual form.

The Photo League maintained darkrooms and meeting space, operated a school under the directorship of the photographer Sid Grossman (1913–55), sponsored workshops and projects (for example the Harlem Document, an in-depth photographic documentation of life in Harlem, led by Aaron Siskind, that lasted for three years) and published Photo Notes, a periodical that was praised by Edward Weston as the most provocative photographic reading of its time. The League also provided gallery space for exhibitions, on 21st Street and later on 10th Street. The breadth of its presentations is indicated by a spectrum that included the work of Weegee, Lisette Model, Dorothea Lange, Barbara Morgan (b 1900), László Moholy-Nagy, French photojournalism and photographs for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) project.

During the anti-liberal climate that emerged towards the end of the 1940s the Photo League, with its broadly social outlook, found itself listed by the US Attorney-General as a ‘subversive’ organization. When anti-libertarian ideology became further entrenched and the League was unable to clear itself—there being no procedure for this—its membership drained away and in 1952 it was forced to cease its activities.

Naomi Rosenblum
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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