Best known today as a painter, Shahn was also a prolific photographer—for a period in the 1930s, in fact, he was paid to take photographs by the U.S. government's Farm Security Administration, which hired him to document the hardships of rural American life. Shahn's photographs were the starting points for some of his paintings, including Handball. In a 1957 interview, Shahn described his painting as being about "social relationships," including those as seemingly simple as the relationships among ball players. In this painting the figures face away from us, engrossed in the world contained by the massive concrete wall of the handball court. The nuances of their relationship are suggested but ultimately hidden.
Gallery label from American Modern: Hopper to O'Keeffe, August 17, 2013–January 26, 2014 .