The Photo League was a New York City–based organization of professional and amateur photographers. A splinter group of the Film and Photo League, it was founded in 1936 by photographers Sid Grossman (1913–1955) and Sol Libsohn (1914–2001). Many of its members were young, first-generation, working-class Jewish Americans.
In keeping with its educational, activist, and aesthetic goals, the League offered lectures, darkroom access, and classes on history and technique, as well as exhibition opportunities. It promoted photography as a fine art and also championed the use of documentary photography to expose social problems and instigate social change.
During its fifteen-year existence, the League was among only a handful of places in New York that offered study in documentary photography, and it was unique in offering inexpensive classes and darkroom access.
The majority of the Photo League images were taken in New York City, but members also took photographs across the United States—for instance, in rural communities in the south—and, during World War II, in Europe, Asia, and Central America. Most of the photographs document ordinary people and everyday life and celebrate democracy in all its diversity. The photographs also include images of poverty and other hardships, which is not surprising given the social conscience of most of the members.
The League published a newsletter called Photo Notes, through which its members’ images, educational philosophies, and ideological stances and debates could be further disseminated.