For further info contact Naomi Goldstein, 917-596-3157
Leo Goldstein was born in 1901 in Kishinev in Bessarabia, an Eastern European region of Czarist Russia. Fleeing the pogroms, his family first settled on the Lower East Side of New York City in 1906. Leo was the fourth of 13 children and went to work at an early age to help support the large family. As a young man he studied sculpting and was a talented amateur artist, taking up photography when he joined the Photo League in the late 1940s.
He threw himself into the social documentary tradition of the League, turning his lens, as many of the League members did, to the migrant and poor communities in New York City. He was greatly influenced by the work of Paul Strand, Lewis Hine and Berenice Abbott, among other members.
Beginning in 1949, and over several years, Leo photographed in East Harlem using a Rolleiflex twin-lens camera that he had bought second hand. Until 2016, when the prints were catalogued, the East Harlem body of work remained mostly untouched and unseen. Working with photo editor Régina Monfort, the family was able to have East Harlem: The Postwar Years published by powerHouse Books in the fall of 2019. The book includes 70 duotone images and essays by Juan González and A.D. Coleman.
In addition to East Harlem, Leo photographed in Mexico and Guatemala in the 1960s. He also took a series of photographs in the Vermont countryside during the same period. An interest in preserving a record of some of the beautiful buildings in New York City neighborhoods led him to photograph a series of buildings in Brooklyn, NY. The latter body of work is now housed in the archives of the Museum of the City of New York.
In the late 1960s, Leo began a major project to photograph stone carvings on old buildings, mainly on the Upper West Side of Manhattan where he lived. As an amateur sculptor himself, Leo was particularly concerned with preserving these artistic expressions, which might be destroyed as part of the process of gentrification in the city. He was working toward the publication of a book of these images when he became ill and died. Following Leo’s death in 1972, none of his negatives could be found.
A small number of Leo’s images have appeared in exhibits and publications of Photo League work, beginning with the seminal exhibit This Is the Photo League (1948-1949) and later in the book, This Was the Photo League, published by the Stephen Daiter Gallery and John Cleary Gallery in 2001. His work was included in “The Photo League, 1936-1951,” an exhibition organized by Howard Greenberg at the Photofind Gallery in Woodstock, NY in 1985. One of Leo’s images was also included in the 2011-12 exhibit at the Jewish Museum entitled “The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League, 1936-1951.”