Thesis & Background
Born in Brooklyn in 1918, Arthur Leipzig has dedicated his life to photographing the city he loves: New York. Although starting out life as a glass wholesaler, an injury to his right hand forced him to pursue a different path in life, which he discovered to be his true calling. In 1942, Leipzig began studying at the New York Photo League, where his career began to flourish. He began working at the newspaper PM, where his photos gained popularity. He has since been featured in The Sunday New York Times, This Week, Fortune, Look, and Parade, among others. Following his long and extensive career as a freelance photographer, he began teaching photography at Long Island University, where he worked until he retired.2
Growing Up In New York, Leipzig’s most notable collection of works was published in 1995, and chronicles life in New York in the 1940s and 50s. His exploration of all walks of life captures New Yorkers from Fifth Avenue to Harlem to Coney Island and everything in between. Playing with light and angles, Leipzig creates a dynamic cross-section of life in New York. His use of light in his photographs does a fantastic job of capturing both his subjects and the city behind them, something most photographers at the time were not doing. Additionally, Leipzig’s use of angles pushes the bill in comparison to other photographers, as he captures his subjects from a perspective that is interesting in and of itself, placing an emphasis on not only the content, but also the composition of the photo itself.3
Growing Up inspires a sense of being at home in New York. Each photo captures the joys of growing up in the greatest city in the world, and instills, at least in me, empathy with the subjects. The rich diversity among the people pictured and all the excitement and fun they’re having makes me feel as though I’m experiencing the scene along with Leipzig.
I want to explore Leipzig’s love of the energy of the New York City streets. In his artist statement about the book, he says: “The city was my home…While I know that the city has changed, that the streets are dirtier and meaner, the energy that I love is still there. No matter where I go, I keep coming back to photograph New York.”
I really connect with that sensibility, having been born in New York and continually returning even though my life has taken me elsewhere. I want to explore what Leipzig connects with personally in the city.
I also want to delve into how he was able to capture such a wide range of people and environments and do them all justice. Leipzig photographed the Harlem ghetto and the Daughters of the American Revolution, and captured their spirit and essence perfectly. I want to study how he was capable of reading a subject and photograph them in a way that was true to them. The ability to do so is something most photographers, even highly respected ones, struggle with. I want to know how Leipzig was so capable of doing so.