THE NEW YORK TIMES - Art Reviews

By Helen A. Harrison

Fred Stein’s black-and-white photographs deal with remembrance. Mr. Stein fled Nazi Germany – first to Paris in 1933 and then, in 1941, to New York. He viewed both cities with an outsider’s fascination and curiosity, as well as a deeply humanistic interest in urban life. Like all great street photographers, he interpreted as he observed.

His scenes are now tinged with nostalgia for the skylines and streetscapes of yesteryear, but one senses he was aware of the tension in the air. One cannot look at his “Paris Evening, 1934,” in which an isolated couple casts a long shadow in the mist, without feeling a frisson of foreboding. What happened to them when war came? And what of the cluster of urchins who study a 1936 newspaper, perhaps seeing frightening pictures of conflict in Spain? Or are they just engrossed in the comics?

 Children Reading Newspaper

Children Reading Newspaper

Wartime New York reflects many of Paris’ qualities – the grittiness, the paradoxical sense of community and isolation in a city. The children and the old people look remarkably similar; perhaps Mr. Stein was attracted to the same types in both cities. The youngsters sharing a snack in “Friends, New York, 1943” are all the more touching for being generic.

The show also includes a selection of Mr. Stein’s portraits of notable personalities, from his famous one of Albert Einstein in 1946 to later, less familiar images of Helen Keller, Frank Lloyd Wright and Gypsy Rose Lee, who mugs impishly for the camera. But it is his candid yet carefully considered slices of city life that illustrate his special feeling for time and place, and for the people who inhabit them. 

Shelter Rock Art Gallery, 48 Shelter Rock Road, Manhasset. Through Jan. 27