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Review: Fred Stein at Robert Mann Gallery

Posted By Administration, Thursday, June 7, 2012
Updated: Monday, January 6, 2014

Virtuoso of the Leica is an Unsung Master

Through June 30, 2012

Somehow the legacy of this photographer is only now on its way to gaining the true recognition it deserves. We need not look at many works to realize their quality, their belonging to the time and place of the artist and his contemporaries. Perhaps it was the era and Stein's need to keep on the move, to reinvent and rebuild himself that worked against his earlier establishment. Born in Dresden, Stein studied law but the Nazi Government denied him admission to the bar. Stein and his wife left Germany in 1933 claiming to be on honeymoon. They traveled to Paris where Stein began taking photographs with the Leica they bought as a joint wedding present.

In Paris Stein allied himself with a circle of artists and intellectuals. He was among the first to adopt the agile hand-held camera and used it to work with spontaneity to capture the drama, the elegance, the grit of the every day. The rhythm in his work is dynamic almost architectural, the framing structured but spontaneous. Stein seemed to have worked with an easy airiness and his sense of "the moment" too is well but gracefully thought. Life was again interrupted in 1939 when Germany declared war on France. Stein was put in an internment camp, but managed to escape and reunite with his wife and infant daughter in the south and obtain assistance from the International Rescue Committee. The family left France for New York in 1941.

Finding himself in a new, vibrant cultural hub Stein again set root and formed relationships with cultural, scientific, and political leaders. Stein continued to work to capture the city life, and also opened a studio business. The portrait enhanced his knowledge of light and tone that enhanced the quality of his more spontaneous personal work. Many personalities of his time were subjects of his portraits, including Albert Einstein, Georgia O'Keefe, and Marc Chagal (all on view). The anonymous are seen with equal honor and dignity, even in heavier themed frames of folks down on their luck or hungry-looking children. Stein's work was published in a slew of magazines, newspapers, and texts of his time; his relevance slow in coming to all circles, will certainly be remembered by all who see his work.

For more information on the exhibition please visit Robert Mann Gallery

The Wall Street Journal reviewed of Fred Stein: Paris / New York
Appeared in the June 1, 2012 issue

Full review by Richard Woodward below:

The career of Fred Stein (1909-1967) illustrates how easily a talented photographer can be written out of history. Born in Dresden, Germany, Mr. Stein belonged to the generation that documented trouble in Europe with hand-held cameras (in his case, a Leica) during the 1930s. Fleeing Leipzig for Paris in 1933 and France for the U.S. in 1941, he found a home with the Photo League in New York and established a successful studio practice here, specializing in portraiture.

This selection of work suggests he must have gone to school in Paris on the photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson and André Kertész. Like them, he identified with those on the economic margins of the city. His pictures of the dispossessed — a man asleep on a bench, another dozing on a loading dock, a bum with wine bottles stuffed in his sagging pockets, an exhausted shoeshine boy — are standouts here.

Celebrity portraits done in New York of Marc Chagall, Albert Einstein and Georgia O'Keeffe are more prosaic. What's unclear from this keyhole view of Mr. Stein's oeuvre is whether his impressive street photographs were more the exception or the rule.

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