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Untitled (Brooklyn Bridge)

Alexander Alland (American, b. Ukraine, 1902-1989)

Untitled (Brooklyn Bridge), c. 1938

  • Gelatin silver print
  • 7 15/16 x 9 7/8 in. (20.2 x 25.1 cm)
  • The Jewish Museum, New York
  • Purchase: William and Jane Schloss Family Foundation Fund, 2008-40
  • © Estate of Alexander Alland, Sr.
  • Digital image © 2010 The Jewish Museum, New York Photo by Ardon Bar Hama

Not on view

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Untitled (Brooklyn Bridge)

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Untitled (Brooklyn Bridge)

Alexander Alland was born in 1902 in Sebastopol, Ukraine. When his mother and brother were killed in the pogroms against Jews during the Russian Revolution, Alland fled to Turkey in 1920. In Istanbul he worked as an assistant to a photographer in a department store for two years before establishing his own studio in 1922. The Turkish government was overthrown that year, and Alland immigrated to New York City in 1923, arriving penniless at Ellis Island. He married in 1930 and the young family lived for a time in the Mohegan Colony, a commune of artists and radicals north of the city. By the mid-1930s he was well enough established as a photographer to return to New York City. In 1936 he worked as supervisor of the Photo-Mural Section of the Federal Art Project (FAP, a branch of the New Deal Works Progress Administration), and made photo-murals for the Newark Public Library and a library at the Riker's Island prison, employing collage techniques drawn from Russian Constructivism. In 1939 he oversaw the creation of an immense mural for the New York World's Fair, sponsored by the National Youth Administration. At this time, he was invited by the American Artists' Congress to teach photography and photo-mural technique at the American Artists School. The Congress, which boasted such notable member artists as Stuart Davis Margaret Bourke-White, and Rockwell Kent, had been founded in 1936 by the American Communist Party to oppose fascism.

Alland's photographs of poor and immigrant subjects had a strong element of social critique. He was an active member of the Photo League by the time his images of New York City were published in Portrait of New York, a book with text by Felix Riesenberg produced for the World's Fair in 1939. Museums began to exhibit and acquire his work. For Life magazine he produced a photographic essay on ethnic enclaves in New York: Ethiopian Jews in Harlem and Russians on the Lower East Side. This series was published in the book American Counterpoint (1943). From 1941 to 1944 he was photograph editor for Common Ground, a journal with a focus on issues of social justice and minority rights; throughout the 1940s he also worked as a commercial photographer. In 1949 Alland was blacklisted for his leftist affiliations. He then became a dedicated historian of early photographers—particularly Jacob Riis—whose work he helped rescue from anonymity.