On June 20th we lost one of the greats, Harold Feinstein. Our thoughts go out to Judith, his family and all of his friends.
It was our honor to share his work.
Here is Part lll.
Do you have any real favorite photos that you have taken over the years?
Would you tell us a little about each of them?
For a photo to get to a point that I would release it in any form, already indicates that it’s a favorite. But, so many photographs I hadn’t event considered when I first reviewed them, are now appearing before me, through re-editing. And they are also becoming my favorites — such as a new color photo I recently discovered taken in probably the late 70’s. (“Nude in Shower #1) But their position as favorite is embellished by seeing them anew. For example, when Judith chooses a photo to hang in our home and I begin to look at it everyday, it becomes a favorite. But, in deference to your question, I will mention a few that are favorites now. Ask me next week and you might get a different answer!
Certainly, those photographs of mine that are well-known or considered “my classics” are that way because they have been repeatedly shown and have become embedded in people’s consciousness. Of course I think they’re great pictures otherwise I wouldn’t have chosen to show them. So too, the more other’s are drawn to them, the more a photo — or any other work of art — attains a kind of iconic stature. Here are a few of mine that hold a special place in my heart:
1. Teenagers on the Beach
When I took this photo, people with cameras weren’t all that common. These kids called out “He mister take our picture”. Now, of course, life itself is a continuum of events and so the artist is, I believe, someone walking and choosing from a myriad of opportunities. Which is why I’ve always said that the difficulty of photography for most people is that it’s easy, and people don’t easily accept the gifts offered. They are too self-conscious and worried about making a choice. Here I was presented with an opportunity and took it. Who could have arranged a more potent group of faces? How could one have made it “stronger” than simply by saying “yes” to what was right there?
2. My Mother’s Curtains
There is a Hebraic sensuality in this photograph that not even a Torah could surpass. When Jacob Deschin, who was the first photo writer for the New York Times, was asked to choose his favorite photograph, he chose this one, referring to its sublime and contemplative mood. Quite different from most of my more exuberant people photography, but definitely a side of my work and my life that I love. It reminds me of my parent’s home, which was where I took it when I was about 15.
3. Puppy Love
This has become a favorite. Its much more recent (for me), since I took it in 1987 on a trip to Greece. I had just gotten off the boat of one of the Greek Islands and this couple where among those who greeted us on a nude beach. Their dog, of course, made a beautiful love triangle, and added to the spirit of playfulness and youthful love this photo expresses.
4. Gypsy Girl
Here is a good example of the subject being totally unaware of itself as a subject and yet what could have been better?
5. Bad Luck Tattoo
Now its fortunate that at the time I took this I was working so quickly because if I had time to think about it I probably wouldn’t have taken it. Especially if he had time to think about it. How does one account for a moment like this? We don’t have to. Click. Click. Look at the composition of this photo? What could’ve made it better? I love the fact that he has “Bad Luck” and then “mom” on the same arm. What “does” it say? We can’t make a presumption about him — sort of like humanity. The whole package is who this guy is.
6. Man Smoking
Sitting a long side my table was this man smoking with the light coming through the window — who could ask for anything more? Even as public consciousness about smoking has become more acute — it definitely made this photograph!
7. Georgina and Rodin
I often made montages from several negatives — and most of them have become favorites of mine. It comes from my own background drawing and painting prior to picking up the photograph. The sensibility of making using my imagination to create beautiful preceded it all. In this case there are two negatives. Rodin has always been a favorite of mine and I took the photograph of his sculpture in 1987 at the Rodin Museum in Paris. That same year, I was in Ibiza, and took a photograph of this lovely girl in front of this particular Rodin sculpture. In the darkroom I brought them together and I think it enhances both of them. (for more on this see my blog on montages: (Harold Feinstein Montages.)
8. Modern Rose
Paradise resides in this single flower, innocent, erotic in the true sense of that word, gorgeous. Oh…to be a bee! Just like people — flowers (shells, butterflies — you name it!)it is all about drawing us in to a deeper experience of beauty. It’s transcendent and completely down to earth!
9. Nude in Shower #1
Finally, as I mentioned, I’m in the process of re-discovering older work. Recently Judith and I came across this one, taken in about 1977 I think. I can’t believe I didn’t print it at the time, but I’m correcting that! We put this on our wall, where I have the opportunity to see it every day, and my appreciation for it grows and grows. I love the painterly sense of it. Is this Da Vinci?
You have worked with and have had many students of photography, would you like to tell us about some of them?
Over the past seven decades I have been blessed with teaching hundreds of students. Some have gone on to become known photographers and other have used the lessons of seeing to aid them in other ways in their lives. l have really been excited by all of my students since teaching, as it turns out, is a very mutual process. I love teaching and always feel honored by every student that joins one of my classes. It is my sense that the experience has been mutually rewarding. So, while, I don’t care to name any particular names here I invite people to tune into my blog, since I am about to begin a series called Spotlight on my Students, which will occasionally highlight the work of one of my students. There’s a long list, so this series is probably going to be very on-going! I will begin after Labor Day with Mariette Pathy-Allen who studied with me in the 70’s. She is just completing a wonderful book on her photographs of the trans-sexual community in Cuba. Gorgeous stuff.
Which of your photographs do you think show your view of the world or share your personal philosophy the best?
I don’t mean to be stubborn about this, but I truly feel that all of my photographs share a similar love of life — and that could be summed up in the yiddish expression “to life, to life L’chaim!” Really I don’t take photographs unless I’m awed by what I see — whether it’s face, flowers, a window or a crowd of people. Judith reminded me of a quote from the introduction to my first book One Hundred Flowers.
It was written by photography critic A.D. Coleman, who has followed my work from when I was a teenager. When I first began doing the large format digital photography, some people were shocked at the supposed change between my early 35mm black and white street photography, but as he said:
“Once they get over the shock, those who know Feinstein from his more familiar work will see clear relationship between…this [floral suite]….and his Coney Island work. I find a profound awe in the presence of living things manifested in all his pictures. A cluster of smiling faces on a beach blanket suddenly becomes a bouquets; a thoughtful scrutiny of an opened blossom suggests a portrait. Part and parcel of the same encompassing worldview, they require no further justification.”
I’m grateful for his comments. The thing is it’s all beautiful. It’s not so much about the subject or a choice of subjects, but rather — for me — seeing beauty. The old expression “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is what sums up my philosophy. Even in teaching, my main goal is to get students to see their own personal beauty and affirm it. That’s what will shine through in their photographs. Different things make our mouths drop open, but saying “yes” to whatever it is, is my own advice to aspiring photographers.
A lot of people complain about digital photography not being real photography. What is your feelings about the modern tools photographers have at their disposal and the rapid changes photography is going through?
Use them all. One is not better than the other. We are artists and artists have many tools. (Let the pixels fall where they may). There have been arguments about photography is and is not since the very beginning of this medium. For me it’s been a process of discovery in which I have thoroughly explored as many avenues as I’ve wanted. More is still to come.
Is there any subject or place you would still like to photograph today that you have not had a chance to work on in your career?
It could be so many, it would include all that you might think of. God only knows. That said, I am thoroughly content with the way it’s unfolded. I am constantly been led in directions that have been fruitful and I expect that to continue.
Is there anything in your career you would change if you had a chance?
Yes. I would’ve said “yes” to Edward Steichen when he asked me to put seven of my photographs in his “Family of Man” exhibition. It turned out to be one of the most important exhibitions of all times and I was a young purist who thought photographs should be shown on their own merits not because they fit in to a “theme”. I wasn’t the only photographer who made that choice….and I suspect I’m not the only one who regrets it!
The most important question in the moment before a photograph is taken is “yes” or “no”. By all mean, say “yes.”
The summation of life is a compilation of the roads taken or not.
One more thing Harold remembered when thinking about is there “anything you would change” ?
He remembered that when he was 16-17, and an avid Brooklyn Dodgers fan — Jackie Robinson agreed to have his photos taken up in the stands when Harold asked him. (This would’ve been shortly after Jackie started — 1947 or so). He took some great up-close portraits of Jackie with fans and now can’t find the negatives! Not sure it would’ve changed his career, but to have those negatives would be to have a wonderful piece of history!
Thank you Harold and Judith for sharing your work and words with us.
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To learn more about the work of Harold Feinstein please visit his site at, Harold Feinstein.