W. Eugene Smith ©Harold Feinstein
W. Eugene Smith © Harold Feinstein

June 20th we lost a great photographer, teacher, friend and generous soul when we lost Harold Feinstein. Our thoughts go out to Judith and his family.

Rfotofolio had the honor of doing a series of interviews with Harold. Here is Part ll.

We have such a rich history of great photography that it is rfotofolio’s honor to feature the words and art of one of America’s photographic greats, Harold Feinstein.  Harold and Judith have been most generous with their time, to help us bring his work to you.

Can you tell us about the first photos that Edward Steichen had purchased for the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)?

While my memory on this is fuzzy, I’m pretty sure it was these three:  “My Mother’s Curtains” (1946),  “Gypsy Girl”  (1949) and “Teenagers on the Beach”  (1949).  Two of these were taken with a Rollieflex  that I borrowed from my neighbor.  It was the first camera I used.  It was the most beautiful camera I’ve ever seen.  For “Teenagers on  the Beach” I was using an Arga C3,  a really cheap 35mm camera that was all I could afford at the time

What inspired you to do photomontage?  Would you describe what your time in the darkroom was like?

Before photography I was a precocious artist, and the tools of the painter, for example, allowed poetic license to portray the world from your own imagination.  In photography I believe the same thing to be true.  Early on, I was more of a purist and followed certain rules, but when I started looking over my work it became clear the I could make a photograph that honored my own imagination better if I freed myself from the old rules. Ultimately all I was interested in was any path that led to a picture that I loved!  In the darkroom it was the time of fulfilling a major segment of what my vision was becoming.  Photomontage is very labor intensive — trying many things that didn’t work…and coming across accidents that did.  The truth is that I generally procrastinated about getting my butt into the darkroom, but once there I always loved it.

Boys Diving into Surf, Coney Island, 1957, Harold Feinstein
Boys Diving into Surf, Coney Island, 1957, Harold Feinstein

Harold you have taught photography in a number of different venues.  Pretend we are one of your students.  What are three or four things that you try to convey to new photographers ?

First of all — take  LOTS of pictures!  The word “yes” is the most important thing!   There are no rules in art.  Everything has been done and will be done, but not by you!  Just love what you’re doing.  Your idiosyncrasies will become a part of your ultimate vision.  Always remember:  good composition is strong seeing.

Art is a club in which the anarchist is the truest member.

Girl in Checkered Dress by Harold Feinstein, 1957
Girl in Checkered Dress by Harold Feinstein, 1957
Young Girl Wearing a Fur Coat by Harold Feinstein, 1954
Young Girl Wearing a Fur Coat by Harold Feinstein, 1954
Nun Hoping for Charity from Passersby by Harold Feinstein, 1952
Nun Hoping for Charity from Passersby by Harold Feinstein, 1952

Are there any words of wisdom for more advanced shooters that you would like to share?

Always remain the beginner so that it will always be brand new.  As new as the first kiss.  Also, always go back to look at your earlier work.  You’ve grown and you may see new things in your work that you hadn’t before.

When you are asked to review a photographer’s portfolio what do you look for?

I look to recognize any elements of his or her work that speak out to me.  Few young photographers are aware of their own vision.  They are looking for something that is high on a certain mountain in their minds, whereas it resides within them.

I see elements here and there that I want to make the student aware of…it’s called recognition, which is what all of us yearn for.  From my subjective viewpoint, I let them know what makes my mouth drop open.  I want them to appreciate the uniqueness of their own way of seeing.  Few people do.

Teaching is also a great learning experience, would you please share some of the “lessons” you took away from all your years of teaching?

Well,  I was honored to be able to accompany other photographers on their journey and was often surprised along the way.  Teaching allowed me to find my own voice in terms of what I have been internalizing along the way.  So I got to know my own wisdom better through sharing it with others.  Many wonderful friendships were formed or begun in the process.  I also learn from the vision of others.  I like to learn from the rules that they are breaking in a world that truly doesn’t have any rules.

Pigeon Sharing Cigar by Harold Feinstein
Pigeon Sharing Cigar by Harold Feinstein
Cafeteria Dining by Harold Feinstein, 1966
Cafeteria Dining by Harold Feinstein,1966

To read  Part l and Part lll of our interviews with Harold please click the titles below.

The Beholder

Harold Feinstein, Part lll

To learn more about the work of Harold Feinstein please visit his site, Harold Feinstein. 

Thank you Harold and Judith for sharing your time and your art.

thank you1.


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