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Coming to America

Louis Stettner (American, b. 1922)

Coming to America, c. 1951

  • Gelatin silver print
  • 11 5/8 x 15 3/4 in. (29.5 x 40 cm)
  • The Jewish Museum, New York
  • Purchase: Photography Acquisitions Committee Fund, 2003-10
  • © Louis Stettner, Courtesy Bonni Benrubi Gallery
  • Digital image © 2008 The Jewish Museum, New York Photo by Ardon Bar Hama

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Coming to America

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Coming to America

At the center of the composition is a family of three, with a fourth figure cropped off in the lower right-hand corner and another cropped off by the right edge of the frame. The benches and lounge chairs suggest that this could be a leisure boat, but the outfits of the figures and the serious gaze of the man suggest a more serious journey. The man and one of the children gaze off into the distance as if they have caught site of the coast to which they are headed. The weather is hinted at by the coats, hats, and blankets, as well as by the man’s body language: his hunched posture and childlike gesture of warming his hands in the opposite arm’s coat sleeve. Still, immigrants often wore all of their clothes on overseas journeys, so the weather might be less cold than the figures’ clothing suggests. The foreground and middle-ground details of the photograph are in focus while the waves in the background and the figure’s lap in the extreme foreground are in softer focus. There are patterns of nearly horizontal lines throughout the composition—in the bench slats; with the parallel lines of the railing, rope, and horizon; and with the floorboards. This horizontal emphasis echoes the directionality of the father and son’s gazes. The central cluster of the three figures and the chairs upon which they sit displays the full range of tones achievable with silver gelatin prints.