|"Contemporary approaches to photography are much different than what was happening in Harold's world. Harold wasn't working in series like many contemporary artists do now. He was photographing what captured his attention."|
With over five decades of dedication and thousands of photographs, 81-year old Brooklyn native Harold Feinstein has documented Coney Island more than any other living photographer.
The exhibition, on view through January at Panopticon Gallery can be accurately described as a time capsule. At a quick glance, his work hits you with overwhelming nostalgia. You need not have experienced Coney Island decades ago to understand the timelessness of the images. Children glaring back at his lens in Cyclone First Climb (1957), smiling and griping on, gives the viewer the sense of immediacy—the subjects' excitement captured and entangled in the spur of the moment. Continue to look closer, and you'll feel the work's candidness. Love on the Boardwalk(1951) features a soldier and a woman mid-embrace, unaware of a photographer's presence. Two Men and a Boy Contemplate (1950), with subjects appearing to span three generations of men capture Coney Island as not only as a landmark, but as a destination unknown to the societal pressures of the time period.
"Harold loved photographing people," Panopticon Gallery owner, Jason Landry recounted. "He said to me once, 'People are my favorite trees.' His greatest strength is his ability to photograph people and his fun loving personality. This combination is key to his great photographs." In addition to these photographs from his Coney Island series, the exhibition features several works from his time stationed in Korea. Entering the war as an illustrator, not a photographer due to restrictions put forth by his association with the New York Photo League, Landry told me that Feinstein's military commander would make him paint signs for the battalions. Landry continued, "I don't think Harold changed his photographic style when he was stationed in Korea. I think he went about making photographs the same way he did back in Coney Island, except that he was in fatigues. Nobody knew where he was half the time, and all he did was carry around a t-square and some paintbrushes." Both his work in Coney Island and his work while stationed in Korea appear idyllic, capturing the realities of his subjects though their friendships and perseverance.
It took over four years and dozens of sessions for Landry and his team to compile Feinstein's first career-spanning monograph titled Harold Feinstein: A Retrospective. "For me, the exhibition was the easy part. It was the book that took a little longer to accomplish," Landry said. Narrowing down hundreds of images to 80 plates, the book reflects on the artist's career as a small camera master of black and white photography. The book features an extended essay and introduction by Philip Prodger, Photography Curator of the Peabody Essex Museum, and was compiled in partnership with Nazraeli Press in Portland, Oregon. "If you can imagine for one moment, Harold, an 81-year old, looking me in the eye and saying, 'Jason, I have been waiting since I was a teenager for a book of my black & white photographs'. When you have someone like Harold telling you this, I felt it was my duty to follow through and make this book happen." With work held in the Museum of Modern Art's collection since his youth, and having taught hundreds of photographers at a college level, Feinstein's monograph is a cultivated retelling of his time, talent and unique vision.
Feinstein will be available at the Panopticon Gallery for a book signing this Saturday, November 3rd at 12pm.
Several works from his expansive portfolio is available to view here on his website.
All images are courtesy of the artist and Panopticon Gallery.