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IN EXILE: Paris and New York
The Photographs of Fred Stein

February 24 – May 14, 2016

Opening Reception and Lecture with Fred Stein’s son, Peter Stein:
Wednesday, February 24, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

Street scene of women standing by car in Little Italy
Little Italy, New York 1943 by Fred Stein
“Fred Stein has recorded the central years of our century with a flood of pictorial impressions, and a multitude of faces famous and anonymous, which will illuminate the period forever. In my own historical writings, I have found such photographic material of crucial value in recreating the sense of a bygone time. Pictures and words are very different, and on the whole incommensurable things. But words often grope where pictures indelibly suggest or declare, especially when the gifted hand and eye of an artist are at work with the camera. Fred Stein was preeminently such an artist.” -Herman Wouk, author


Fred Stein (1909-1967) was born in Dresden, Germany, the son of a rabbi. As a teenager he was deeply interested in politics and became an early anti-Nazi activist. He was a brilliant student, and went to Leipzig University, full of humanist ideals, to study law. He obtained a law degree in an impressively short time, but was denied admission to the German bar by the Nazi government for “racial and political reasons.” The threat of Fascism grew more and more dangerous and after the SS began making inquiries about him, Stein fled to Paris in 1933 with his new wife, Liselotte Salzburg, under the pretext of taking a honeymoon.

I first met Fred when we were both refugees fighting the totalitarian Nazi regime through the rather poor means we had. In his time he was very much in the avant garde, a brilliant photographer inspired by his quest for justice and his concern for truth so clearly reflected in his photographs. He truly was a man of vision, and his choice of people and subjects is an obvious proof of it. - Willy Brandt, Chancellor of Germany
Profile photograph of Fred Stein taking a picture
Fred Stein with Leica, Paris ca. 1937
photographer unknown

In Paris they were in the center of a circle of expatriates, intellectuals and artists. In the midst of upheaval, gathering war, and personal penury, Stein began taking photographs. He was a pioneer of the small, hand-held camera, and with the Leica which he and his wife had purchased as a joint wedding present, he went into the streets to photograph scenes of life in Paris. He saw hope and beauty where most people would only see despair. He was fascinated with people in all their diversity, from the very fashionable to the suffering poor. His photographs often accuse the cruelty and injustice of the existing social order, and just as often revel in the elegance of a patrician figure. Above all, his sense of beauty and sophisticated composition shine through and elevate the everyday moment. He also became acquainted with and photographed some of the leading personalities of Europe. When Germany declared war on France in 1939, Stein was put in an internment camp for enemy aliens near Paris. He managed to escape, and after a hazardous clandestine journey through the countryside, met his wife and baby girl in Marseilles, where they obtained visas through the efforts of the International Rescue Committee. On May 7, 1941, the three boarded the S.S. Winnipeg, one of the last boats to leave France. They carried only the Leica and some negatives.

New York was a vibrant center of culture, and Stein seized the opportunity. He met and photographed writers, artists, scientists, politicians, and philosophers whose work he knew through his extensive reading and study. This enabled him to engage them in conversation during portrait sessions. He continued his fascination with humanity, walking through the streets of New York, documenting life from Fifth Avenue to Harlem. He worked unobtrusively and quickly, valuing the freedom to capture the telling moment that reveals the subject in its own light, not as incidental material for photographic interpretation. He preferred natural or minimal lighting, and avoided elaborate setups as well as dramatic effects. He did not retouch or manipulate the negative. Stein was a member of the Photo League until he became disenchanted with their pro-Communist sympathies.

Photograph of Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein, Princeton, New Jersey 1946 by Fred Stein
Well-read and intellectually curious, Fred Stein was a fascinating conversationalist. He could put his subjects at ease and engage them in discussion, enabling him to find the moment that revealed the inner character. A ten minute appointment with Albert Einstein stretched into a two-hour session, despite the frequent protestations of Einstein's secretary. He worked with minimal lighting setups; this approach gave him flexibility and freedom. The impact of the portraits lies in seeing the great minds at work, not in a posed or artificial situation. His portrait of Albert Einstein is his most famous picture: an iconic image of a great soul.

Though portraits were his main income-generating work and he photographed many people on commission, he generally worked without assignment, shooting people and scenes that interested him. He would then offer his work to publishers and photo editors of magazines, newspapers, and books. He also lectured and held a number of one-man exhibitions and had several books published.

His career was cut short when he passed away at the age of 58 and it has only been in more recent years that his work is getting the recognition it deserves as an important and insightful record of city-life during a pivotal moment in history.

This exhibition was organized and curated by Peter Stein, Fred Stein’s son.

Click here for more information about the artist.

Photograph of Fred Stein reading the newspaper and smoking a pipe at a cafe in Paris Photograph of Georgia O’Keeffe sitting at a table Photograph of children playing on street barricade in New York City
Café, Paris 1935 by Fred Stein Georgia O’Keeffe, Abiquiu, New
Mexico, 1961
by Fred Stein
Barricade, New York 1943
by Fred Stein

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