Today’s classic photographer, Louis Stettner, I have also taken from the auction catalogue I mentioned last week (Grisebach Berlin, Mai 2013). In the auction two of his prints were being auctioned of and they are simply delightful – “Central Park, NYC” from 1957 and “Lower Manhattan” (Twin Towers) from 1979. I know especially the last image might stir some emotions. Both images did well, the latter fetching a little over the auction house estimate of €4000-5000. Apart from that, I do not know this photographer at all! Let’s change that shall we?


Louis Stettner was born on the 7th of November, 1922, in Brooklyn, New York where he was raised as one of four children. His father was a cabinet maker and Louis learned the trade when young, using the money to support his growing love of photography. His family went on trips to Manhattan and visited museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art where he found his love of art; his first camera was a wooden view camera.

In 1940, 18 years of age, Stettner enlisted in the army and became a combat photographer in Europe for the Signal Corps. After a brief stint in Europe he was sent to New Guinea, the Philippines, and Japan. Back from the war he joined the Photo League in New York, where he studied and taught before moving to Paris in 1946. From 1947 to 1949 he studied at the “Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques” from where he received a Bachelor of Arts in Photography & Cinema.

Stettner’s professional work in Paris involved capturing life in the post-war recovery where he captured the everyday lives of his subjects. In the tradition of the Photo League, he wanted to investigate the bonds that connected people regardless of class. In 1947 he was asked by the same Photo League to organize an exhibition of French photographers in New York. He gathered the works of some of the greatest photographers of the era, including Doisneau, Brassaï, Édouard Boubat, Izis, and Ronis.

Stettner had begun a series of regular meetings with Brassaï who was a great mentor and had significant influence on his work. In 1949, Stettner had his first exhibition at the “Salon des Indépendants” at the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.

In 1951 his work was included in the famous Subjektive Fotografie exhibition in Germany. During the 1950s he free-lanced for Time, Life, Fortune, and Du (Germany). While in Paris he reconnected with Paul Strand who had also left New York because of political intolerance of the Mc Carthy era and the two men became friends. In the 1970s Stettner spent more time in New york City where he taught at Brooklyn College, Queens College, and Cooper Union.

In his own work, Stettner focused on documenting the lives of the working class in both Paris and New York. He felt and still believes that the cities belong to the people that live there, not the tourists and visitors. His upbringing caused him to take great care in capturing the simple human dignity of the working class. He also captured great architectural images of both cities including bridges, buildings and monuments.

Stettner has received numerous honors and in 1950 he was named Life’s top new photographer. In 1975 he won First Prize in the Pravda World Contest.

Now in his 80s, he continues to photograph with great energy. Stettner also spends significant time sculpting and painting, as well as mixing his work and “painting” on some of his photographic images. You can visit his personal website here, or connect to him on Facebook.


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