In 1946, as a 15-year-old babysitting for his brother’s child, Harold Feinstein picked up a Kodak Vigilant camera and began shooting. He developed prints in his bedroom and within four years, the Museum of Modern Art bought some of his work for a permanent exhibition.
At 17, he joined the Photo League, an organization comprised of prestigious New York City photographers. The league formed out of the Film and Photo League, which was organized in the early 1930s with the goal of documenting class struggles in the United States.
When Feinstein joined, discussion about whether photography was art filled photographer’s conversations, he said. To him, the reason to photograph is to show life.
“Photography is no more art than writing is literature,” Feinstein, now 81, said. “It’s what you do with it.”
In the same vein, many of the New York native’s ideas didn’t work out according to his plan, but he still used the opportunities to create quality photographs.
During the Korean War, he was drafted into the Army. He had hoped to become a staff photographer but was instead added to the infantry. It was a blessing in disguise, he said.
“Being in the Army is basically about waiting,” he said. It gave him time to photograph things he would not have been able to as an official war photographer.
Before the Army, Feinstein photographed Coney Island in New York; he now has 60 years of photographs from the area where “everything is a subject.”
He has also been a professor of photography at universities and his home. His advice to his students is always, “When your mouth drops open, click the shutter.” Those shots become your signature, he said.
Feinstein himself never stops learning and exploring. He loves the simplicity and immediacy of digital film and took a 12-year hiatus from his darkroom. He has recently returned after nudges from his wife and assistant.
A selection of his images is being published in his book, “Harold Feinstein: A Retrospective.” In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, he will also be selling two of his images with 100% of net proceeds going to The North Star Fund Hurricane Relief and Coney Island Recovers at the Aperture Gallery in New York.
- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN