Even though Jacob A. Riis is perhaps the best-known documentarian of the grit and poverty of turn-of-the-20th-century New York City, there hasn't been a comprehensive retrospective of his photographs in more than 50 years. That exhibit, "The Battle With the Slum," was held at the Museum of the City of New York in 1947; and now, the museum plays host to a new retrospective of the pioneering photographer and social activist's work, "Jacob A Riis: Revealing New York's Other Half," which opens today.
For this exhibit, MCNY worked with the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library (the keepers of the Riis archive) to create a collection of 125 artifacts—and while plenty of his iconic images will be on view, it's not limited to those. The museum will also showcase some of Riis's equipment, his writings, and some of his correspondence, including letters from President Theodore Roosevelt and Andrew Carnegie. There will also be a recreation of How the Other Half Lives, a presentation that Riis compiled, using his photographs of tenement buildings (many of which were taken using the new-at-the-time flash photography), that illustrated how deplorable conditions were for New York's poor.
In a press release, the museum noted that, "one hundred years after his death, inequality remains an essential aspect of American life, and the story of Jacob Riis needs to be remembered." This exhibit should go a long way toward doing that.
· "Jacob A. Riis: Revealing New York's Other Half" [Museum of the City of New York]