New York Photo Review
NYPR Archives - 2010

An Untold Story
Peter Sekaer
An Untold Story
Peter Sekaer, “Anniston, Alabama”, 1936

Peter Sekaer has an untold story that is just now gaining more exposure.

He was a Depression-era photographer who was little known during his all too brief lifetime (Sekaer died in 1950 at age 49 of a heart attack), but who had spent a good part of his photographic career as a documentarian committed to social change. With this exhibition at Greenberg as well as a major retrospective now at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art along with a book, Peter Sekaer is gaining a long overdue measure of recognition.

His story is rather remarkable, which makes it even more surprising that Sekaer’s name was sort of a footnote in the history of the photographers of the 1930s. Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, Sekaer came to New York at age 17, ran a prosperous silk screening business, and then met Walker Evans and Ben Shahn when he enrolled at the Art Students League in 1929. In 1935, Sekaer traveled with Evans for two months through seven southern states while on assignment with the Resettlement Administration, later known as the Farm Security Administration. Sekaer and Evans often shot the same photographs but their styles were quite different. Evans was more formal while Sekaer’s work showed his ability to connect to his subjects as well as his eye for graphics. Many of the photographs in Untold Story reveal his humanity: the street photograph taken in New Orleans entitled “Negro couple”; several images of 1937 Mardi Gras celebrants; “Barber Shop Interior,” taken in Atlanta in 1936 inside a black barbershop. The exhibition includes images of Times Square, Philadelphia, Birmingham, Alabama in the 1930s, and the carnival or circus sign that says, “Run here and quick and see the smallest lady in the world. She is 26 inches tall...” My favorite is the 1936 image: “Anniston, Alabama” which is a photo of the staircase leading up to the second floor of the movie house, a big “Colored” sign stretching the length of it.

 by unidentified photographer.
Peter Sekaer, “Negro Couple, New Orleans”, 1937

Some of these images are vintage prints from the 1930s, others were printed later in the 1980s but all provide a clear window on an era that is becoming more and more distant. Sekaer’s work brings it back into focus.

Peter Sekaer
An Untold Story

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Tuesday, September 14 to
Saturday, October 23, 2010
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