Joe Schwartz



Poems I’ve Never Written


January 31 - March 7, 2015 // Opening Reception: Saturday January 31, 6-9 pm


Smith Andersen North is pleased to present  Joe Schwartz: Folk Photography - Poems I’ve Never WrittenJoe Schwartz (1913-2013) was born in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Growing up in the hardscrabble neighborhoods of the city, he was keenly aware of the intense difficulties facing America's urban poor and in the 1930s, became politically active and joined the The Photo League of New York, teaching workshops alongside Margaret Bourke-White, W. Eugene Smith and Sid Grossman. During this time he began photographing everyday life on the streets of his childhood, focusing on the positive aspects of community life that transcended racial divides, especially the street “folk” games of children. 


While the photographs here are drawn mainly from this time period, the exhibition--featuring over 35 vintage gelatin silver prints--celebrates the overall achievement of a photographer who spent a lifetime dedicated to social justice and to presenting not just the harsh realities of America's working poor, but the hope and individuality expressed by people going about their everyday lives in the urban slums. Professor James A. Miller of George Washington University notes, "what makes his images so compelling is his clear-eyed and clear-headed insistence upon the inherent dignity of human beings in spite of their dire economic conditions; upon the possibilites of human communities based upon shared values and aspirations that cut across racial lines; and upon the values of living in a multi-racial, multi-ethnic American society." 


Joseph Schwartz grew up in the Brooklyn slums and housing projects with his parents, Rose Mandel and Samuel Schwartz, who were immigrants from Romania and Poland. He started experimenting with an inexpensive camera--a Voigtlander Superb--in high school and soon after became an activist, engaged in street politics of the "have-nots". In 1939 he married modern dancer Anne Palley and they had two children, Carl and Paula. Schwartz served in the 5th Division Marine Corps during WWII and was stationed on Iwo Jima from D-day until the end of the campaign as a combat photographer. He was also on the staff of Leatherneck Magazine and received several accolades for his war photography. Schwartz was honorably discharged from San Leandro hospital due to combat fatigue. Following the war, he attended Fred Archer's School of Photography on the G.I. Bill, graduating in 1953. Schwartz eventually moved to the Los Angeles area where he continued to photograph on the streets and make his living as a lithographer. 


Joe Schwartz's photographic work has been shown in the touring exhibition "The Radical Camera: New York's Photo League, 1936-1951", and in several other important museums and galleries including the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Canada. His photographs are in the collections of the Getty Museum of Los Angeles and the Smithsonian InstitutionSchwartz's photos will be displayed at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture when it opens in 2016 in Washington, D.C. Curator Paul Gardullo writes, "One of the aspects of Joe's work that makes it so enduring is that it helps us to remember a crucial past of interracial cooperation and understanding reaching back to the 1930s and '40s, a period that we too often think of as disconnected from the traditional civil rights and desegregation movements. This past--one of people of different races and ethnicities working, struggling, laughing and playing together--is a crucial part of the historical record and can teach us much ..."


View a selection of available works.




Top: Sullivan Midgets I, Greenwich Village, New York City, 1930s. Vintage gelatin silver print, 12 3/4 x 18 inches.

Bottom: Some World Citizens, Kingsboro Housing Project, Brooklyn, 1940s. Vintage gelatin silver print, 9 1/4 x 13 1/4 inches.

 © Joe Schwartz Photography