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East Broadway and Canal Street

Rebecca Lepkoff (American, b. 1916)

East Broadway and Canal Street, 1948

  • Gelatin silver print
  • 8 5/8 x 7 3/8 in. (21.9 x 18.7 cm)
  • The Jewish Museum, New York
  • Purchase: Photography Acquisitions Committee Fund, 1998-11

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East Broadway and Canal Street

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East Broadway and Canal Street

The City is like a theater all the time. There’s always something going on… if you’re looking.

—Rebecca Lepkoff, from a filmed interview conducted at the Columbus Museum of Art, 2010


Rebecca Lepkoff was born to Russian Jewish immigrant parents and raised on New York’s Lower East Side. Lepkoff grew up in a two-bedroom tenement apartment along with her five brothers and sisters. She bought her first camera with money earned from performing with a modern-dance troupe at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City. With her new camera, she began to document the vibrant spirit of the neighborhood in which she grew up and also the area between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges known as Two Bridges. Lepkoff developed her prints in the evenings, setting up darkrooms in the bathrooms and kitchens of the apartments she lived in over the years. She also taught photography at the Educational Alliance, a non-profit organization founded in 1889 to help Jewish immigrants get settled in the United States.

Lepkoff joined the Photo League in 1945 and continued to document her old neighborhood, which was then in the throes of urban renewal. Tenements like the one she grew up in were being torn down, new buildings were going up, and families were being displaced. Lepkoff would take photographs daily, often returning to sites to reconsider the scene.

Lepkoff remained a member of the Photo League until it was disbanded in 1951.