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Jacob A. Riis

Revealing New York's Other Half

By Bonnie Yochelson

An authoritative study of the images made by a pioneer journalist and photographer who passionately advocated for America’s urban poor

Danish-born Jacob A. Riis (1849–1914) found success in America as a reporter for the New York Tribune, first documenting crime and later turning his eye to housing reform. As tenement living conditions became unbearable in the wake of massive immigration, Riis and his camera captured some of the earliest, most powerful images of American urban poverty.

This important publication is the first comprehensive study and complete catalogue of Riis’s world-famous images, and places him at the forefront of early-20th-century social reform photography. It is the culmination of more than two decades of research on Riis, assembling materials from five repositories (the Riis Collection at the Museum of the City of New York, the Library of Congress, the New-York Historical Society, the New York Public Library, and the Museum of South West Jutland, Denmark) as well as previously unpublished photographs and notes. In this handsome volume, Bonnie Yochelson proposes a novel thesis—that Riis was a radical publicist who utilized photographs to enhance his arguments, but had no great skill or ambition as a photographer. She also provides important context for understanding how Riis’s work would be viewed in turn-of-the-century New York, whether presented in lantern slide lectures or newspapers.

Bonnie Yochelson is former curator of prints and photographs at the Museum of the City of New York, and an art historian specializing in photography. Her other books include Alfred Stieglitz New York (Skira Rizzoli, 2010) and Berenice Abbott: Changing New York (New Press, 1997).

Reviews

“Jacob Riis Photographs Still Revealing New York’s Other Half” The New York Times

“Revealing Riis’s Other Half of New York” New York Times LENS

“The heartbreaking pictures of New York’s slums that prompted social reform and earned immigrant photographer praise as the city’s ‘most useful citizen.’ ” Daily Mail

“New Exhibit Reveals an Unexpected Side of Jacob A. Riis” American Photo

“Century-Old Jacob Riis Photographs of New York’s ‘Other Half’ On View” —Curbed

“NYC Museum Retrospective of Photojournalist Jacob Riis” ABC News

“Museum of the City of New York Spotlights Jacob A. Riis and the ‘Other Half’” —Women’s Wear Daily

Read the press release.

Jacob A. Riis

Yale University Press, 2015
Published in association with the Museum of the City of New York and the Library of Congress

With generous support from the Terra Foundation

A complete catalogue raisonné of photographs by Jacob A. Riis, with over 500 photos (25 in full color, 375 duotone, and 210 black-and-white)

EXHIBITION SCHEDULE

Museum of the City of New York
(10/07/15–03/20/16)

Library of Congress, Washington D.C.
(April–September 2016)

Kunstforeningen Gammelstrand, Copenhagen, Denmark
(October 1, 2016–January 8, 2017)

Ribe Kunstmuseum in Ribe, Denmark
(January 21, 2017–May 14, 2017)

Browse the Collections Portal to view the Museum’s Jacob A. Riis Collection, which encompasses more than 1,000 photos and serves as the sole archive of Riis’s images.

Also by Bonnie Yochelson

Skira Rizzoli, in association with the Museum of the City of New York and the South Street Seaport Museum, 2011