New York Photo Review
Volume 4 Issue 10 February 26 to March 5, 2013

The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

Humanist Realism
Louis Stettner
The Masterpieces, Celebrating 90 Years
Construction Site, Manhattan, New York by Louis Stettner. Source:
Louis Stettner, "Construction Site, Manhattan, New York" 1954
What makes a photograph a masterpiece? Is it the moment captured by the photographer? The composition? Subject? Mood? The print? All of the above? May I suggest you visit this extraordinary retrospective by 90-year-old Louis Stettner, see the world through a master’s eyes, and then decide for yourself. At the very least, you’ll enjoy 37 superb black, white and color photographs from the first Stettner retrospective in New York in years. In fact, some of these prints have never been shown publicly.

Born in Brooklyn, Stettner returned to New York after his Army discharge in 1945, joined the Photo League, then moved to Paris in 1947, spending most of his life there. He calls his photography “humanist realism” and from his evocative, lyrical views of street life, whether shot in New York, Paris or elsewhere, it’s clear why. In “Deux Filles, Rue Des Martyrs, Paris, 1950,” for example, Stettner captures the joy of childhood in mid-step as two young sisters run along a Paris street. 53 years later, the artist sees a man and woman sitting cross-legged on a stone bench and photographs the quiet elegance of just their hands and legs in “Around a Fountain, Central Park, NY, 2003.” “Odd Man Out, Penn Station, New York, 1958” frames its subjects by the train window. It’s a very graphic, moody and painterly composition, so it’s no surprise to learn that Stettner is also a painter. His eye for composition is also well-illustrated by “On a Dutch Ferry, Holland, 1958” where he shoots a couple kissing through the back window of a car, a female passenger in the back seat. One of his more haunting images—an iconic one at that—is “Downtown Manhattan, New York 1979”: an image of the Twin Towers shrouded by fog with a single seagull captured right in the middle.

Deux Filles, Rue Des Matyrs, Paris by Louis Stettner. Source:
Louis Stettner, "Deux Filles, Rue Des Matyrs, Paris" 1950
The most recent work in the show—five Cibachrome prints that were taken between 2000 and 2011, are evidence that Stettner’s advancing age hasn’t dimmed his vision. For example, in “The Yawn, Manhattan Pastorale, New York. 2008,” he captures a young man in the middle of a yawn, his face perfectly framed by his hoodie, with muted colors giving this image an ethereal quality.

It's easy to see how Stettner’s eye for composition and light, combined with his ability to connect people with their environment puts his name in the pantheon of icons such as Cartier-Bresson and Brassai.

Louis Stettner
The Masterpieces, Celebrating 90 Years

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Monday, December 31 to
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