The Photo League

The Photo League vertical file, new to the ICP Library, contains charmingly hand-lettered, illustrated announcements and invitations as well as press clippings, course brochures, letters to members, and other ephemera outlining the history of this significant cooperative of socially-minded photographers based in New York in the 1930s and ’40s.

The Photo League was founded in 1936 by Sol Libsohn and Sid Grossman to responded to the needs of photographers of its time by offering classes, publishing a newsletter (called Photo Notes), and organizing exhibitions and lectures. Its membership included some of the most influential American photographers, such as Berenice Abbott, Richard Avedon, Margaret Bourke-White, Robert Frank, Harold Feinstein, Helen Levitt, Barbra Morgan, Beaumont Newhall, Nancy Newhall, W. Eugene Smith, Weegee, Paul Strand, Ansel Adams, and Edward Weston, whose traces are discoverable within this collection of ephemera.

After World War II, the Photo League ( like many groups with an interest in social justice and members of distinction) was accused of being an “anti-American” Communist front and its name was placed on the U.S. Department of Justice’s blacklist signifying the beginning of the end for this remarkable organization. This letter from the League to Attorney General Tom C. Clark is a particularly interesting piece of history among the wealth of material in the file that provides insight into both American and photographic history.

Next time you stop by the Library, have a look through this fantastic vertical file.

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1 thought on “The Photo League”

  1. Hurrah! This week we learned who had made the exuberant illustrations and printing on these Photo League invites and flyers! The legendary photo historian Naomi Rosenblum passed by the ICP Library and fessed up…she was the mystery illustrator and pleased as punch that these provided a walk down memory lane.

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