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Rediscovering Jacob Riis: Exposure Journalism and Photography in Turn-of-the-Century New York

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Before publishing his pioneering book How the Other Half Lives—a photojournalistic investigation into the poverty of New York’s tenement houses, home to three quarters of the city’s population—Jacob Riis (1849-1914) spent his first years in the United States as an immigrant and itinerant laborer, barely surviving on his carpentry skills until he landed a job as a muckrakin Before publishing his pioneering book How the Other Half Lives—a photojournalistic investigation into the poverty of New York’s tenement houses, home to three quarters of the city’s population—Jacob Riis (1849-1914) spent his first years in the United States as an immigrant and itinerant laborer, barely surviving on his carpentry skills until he landed a job as a muckraking reporter. These early experiences provided Riis with an understanding of what it was like to be poor in the immigrant communities that populated New York’s slums, and it was this empathy that would shine through in his iconic photos. With Rediscovering Jacob Riis, art historian Bonnie Yochelson and historian Daniel Czitrom place Jacob Riis’s images in historical context even as they expose a clear sightline to the present. In the first half of their book, Czitrom explores Riis’s reporting and activism within the gritty specifics of Gilded Age New York: its new immigrants, its political machines, its fiercely competitive journalism, its evangelical reformers, and its labor movement. In delving into Riis’s intellectual education and the lasting impact of How the Other Half Lives, Czitrom shows that though Riis argued for charity, not sociopolitical justice, the empathy that drove his work continues to inspire urban reformers today. In the second half of the book, Yochelson describes for the first time Riis’s photographic practice: his initial reliance on amateur photographers to take the photographs he needed, his own use of the camera, and then his collecting of photographs by professionals, who by 1900 were documenting social reform efforts for government agencies and charities. She argues that while Riis is rightly considered a revolutionary in the history of photography, he was not a photographic artist. Instead, Riis was a writer and lecturer who first harnessed the power of photography to affect social change. As staggering inequality continues to be an urgent political topic, this book, illustrated with nearly seventy of Riis’s photographs, will serve as a stunning reminder of what has changed, and what has not.


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Before publishing his pioneering book How the Other Half Lives—a photojournalistic investigation into the poverty of New York’s tenement houses, home to three quarters of the city’s population—Jacob Riis (1849-1914) spent his first years in the United States as an immigrant and itinerant laborer, barely surviving on his carpentry skills until he landed a job as a muckrakin Before publishing his pioneering book How the Other Half Lives—a photojournalistic investigation into the poverty of New York’s tenement houses, home to three quarters of the city’s population—Jacob Riis (1849-1914) spent his first years in the United States as an immigrant and itinerant laborer, barely surviving on his carpentry skills until he landed a job as a muckraking reporter. These early experiences provided Riis with an understanding of what it was like to be poor in the immigrant communities that populated New York’s slums, and it was this empathy that would shine through in his iconic photos. With Rediscovering Jacob Riis, art historian Bonnie Yochelson and historian Daniel Czitrom place Jacob Riis’s images in historical context even as they expose a clear sightline to the present. In the first half of their book, Czitrom explores Riis’s reporting and activism within the gritty specifics of Gilded Age New York: its new immigrants, its political machines, its fiercely competitive journalism, its evangelical reformers, and its labor movement. In delving into Riis’s intellectual education and the lasting impact of How the Other Half Lives, Czitrom shows that though Riis argued for charity, not sociopolitical justice, the empathy that drove his work continues to inspire urban reformers today. In the second half of the book, Yochelson describes for the first time Riis’s photographic practice: his initial reliance on amateur photographers to take the photographs he needed, his own use of the camera, and then his collecting of photographs by professionals, who by 1900 were documenting social reform efforts for government agencies and charities. She argues that while Riis is rightly considered a revolutionary in the history of photography, he was not a photographic artist. Instead, Riis was a writer and lecturer who first harnessed the power of photography to affect social change. As staggering inequality continues to be an urgent political topic, this book, illustrated with nearly seventy of Riis’s photographs, will serve as a stunning reminder of what has changed, and what has not.

11 review for Rediscovering Jacob Riis: Exposure Journalism and Photography in Turn-of-the-Century New York

  1. 4 out of 5

    David

    A fascinating book that is really two extended essays on Jacob Riis and his contribution as a social commentator and a documentary photographer. The two cannot really be separated. One essay looks at Riis from a historical perspective while the other from a museum/art history perspective. The book has lots of photos that Riis used as well as photos that other commentators that preceded him used. The second essay -- the art history one -- also addresses -- how the change in photo technology came A fascinating book that is really two extended essays on Jacob Riis and his contribution as a social commentator and a documentary photographer. The two cannot really be separated. One essay looks at Riis from a historical perspective while the other from a museum/art history perspective. The book has lots of photos that Riis used as well as photos that other commentators that preceded him used. The second essay -- the art history one -- also addresses -- how the change in photo technology came to be applied in his work.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Deborah Rees

  3. 4 out of 5

    Michael Kruse

  4. 4 out of 5

    Irene

  5. 5 out of 5

    Beth

  6. 5 out of 5

    Paul

  7. 4 out of 5

    Zt

  8. 5 out of 5

    Dawn

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Kessler

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lloyd

  11. 4 out of 5

    Angela Edwards

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