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31 July 2017

Sid Grossman, Rencontres d’Arles 2016



Sid Grossman is an important but long-overlooked figure in modern American photography. Before his death in 1955 at the age of 42, he created a powerful and influential body of work. As an artist and a teacher, he profoundly shaped the vision of his time. However, due to his blacklisting in 1949 by the FBI, his achievement has been obscured for decades.


Grossman began as a social documentary photographer and helped found the New York Photo League in 1936. In the spirit of the League’s left-leaning politics, he photographed in the working-class neighbourhoods of Chelsea and Harlem. In the mid-1940s, Grossman’s vision became more personal and subjective. This work began during his Army service in Panama, and continued after his return to New York in 1946. These photographs use blur, grain, and underexposure to boldly visceral and intuitive effect. Radical in its day, this work exemplified the expressionistic energy of the ‘New York School’ of the 1950s. Grossman has been best known for his dynamic images of the late 1940s—religious pilgrims at the ‘Black Christ’ procession in Panama, and intimate images of people at Coney Island and on the streets of New York.


The FBI blacklisted Grossman in 1949 as a communist ‘subversive’. His public career destroyed, he continued to teach private classes in his New York apartment, inspiring younger talents such as Leon Levinstein. He summered in the artists’ colony at Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he fished, taught photography classes, and made introspective and lyrical images.
This is the most comprehensive look at Grossman’s artistic achievement and influence in at least 35 years, and his first exhibit in Europe. Rare vintage prints from the Grossman estate and from noted public and private collections will be included, as well as works by his leading students. Together, these works testify to a brilliant photographic talent—one long overdue for broader recognition.

Keith F. Davis


Exhibition curators: Keith F. Davis, Howard Greenberg, and Bob Shamis.
Exhibition organised by The Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, in collaboration with the Rencontres d’Arles.
We would like to thank Florence and Damien Bachelot.
Publication: Keith F. Davis, The Life and Work of Sid Grossman, Steidl/Howard Greenberg Library, 2016.
Framing by Circad, Paris.
Exhibition venue: Espace Van Gogh.