PDN Photo of the Day

An Unclassifiable Vision of New York and Paris

Louis Stettner dedicated nearly eight decades of his life to photography. In that time he created a singular approach to photographing everyday life in New York and Paris.

Stettner, who died in 2016, was born exactly 96 years ago today in Brooklyn, New York. He began making pictures as a teenager in the 1930s. After serving as a photographer in the U.S. Army in World War II, Stettner moved to Paris. There, he studied at the Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques and became friends with Brassaï, an iconic representative of French humanist photography. Early on, Stettner also befriended American street photographer Weegee. Through these friendships and his own life experiences, Stettner “developed a unique point of view that melded the boldness of American street photography with the softer humanism more characteristic of his Paris contemporaries,” writes SFMOMA where a selection of Stettner’s images are currently on display. The exhibition, called Traveling Light, is the first large-scale exhibition of Stettner’s photographs since his death and his first major presentation in the United States.

Though Stettner’s photographs are acclaimed for their humanity and their capture of the architectural and cultural evolution of Paris and New York, the “reception of his work also suffered from this straddling of cultures. For many, he was neither fully American nor completely French. The history of photography, which favors strict categorizations, has never really known how to classify him.”

For the vast majority of his life, Stettner traveled between New York and Paris — his “two loves,” as he called them — constantly finding new inspiration in that geographical duality.

Traveling Light
By Louis Stettner
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Through May 27, 2019

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