'Harold Feinstein: Boardwalks, Beaches and Boulevards" opens at David Hill Gallery
Coney Island Teenagers, 1949.
LONDON.- Harold Feinstein may have admired the work of W. Eugene Smith and Henri Cartier-Bresson, but he was not a photographer who would stand back and observe, unnoticed by his subjects. In fact, in nearly every image, Feinsteins proximity to his subject is clear. It is this physical closeness, an extension of Feinsteins profound connection to his subjects, that sets his work apart from other street photographers from the same period. Whether standing over a group of teenagers lying on a Coney Island beach, photographing a couple on the boulevard, or capturing the immutable gaze of a young child, intimacy and compassion sit at the core of each image.
Where his contemporaries photographers like Diane Arbus, Walker Evans and Garry Winogrand documented the plight of the human condition without their subjects awareness, Feinstein celebrated humanity with his subjects. From the glittering lights of Times Square to the streets of Harlem; from the smoke-filled coffee shops to subway cars; from city stoops to crowded beaches, Feinsteins desire to connect with the world around him and share the experiences he saw is evident in every composition. A deep sense of empathetic humanity runs through these photographs. As Feinstein himself put it, 'Everywhere people live out their own personal story, yet are tied together through the universal emotions of love, loss, curiosity, humour and compassion... My street photography is a small sampling of my photographic journey bearing witness to the beauty and mystery of this human life.'
Born in Coney Island in 1931, Feinstein left school to begin photographing at the age of 15 and became one of the most prominent figures in the vanguard of the New York City street photography scene, joining the famed Photo League when he was 17. At the age of 19, Feinsteins work was acquired by Edward Steichen for the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). He was included in shows at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1954 and at the Museum of Modern Art in 1957. Feinstein also had a solo show at the legendary Helen Gee's Limelight Gallery in 1957. Despite his early success, Feinsteins extensive collection of classic street photography, nudes, portraits and still life have seldom been exhibited.
A renaissance of his remarkable work is currently underway though, as evidenced by the 2019 feature length documentary Last Stop Coney Island: The Life and Photography of Harold Feinstein, which had its world premier at DOCNYC to a sold-out crowd. Thanks to this, the black and white monograph, Harold Feinstein: A Retrospective (Nazraeli Press, 2012), and numerous solo exhibitions worldwide, Feinstein is starting to receive the critical and public attention he richly deserves.