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Life on the Lower East Side
Photographs by Rebecca Lepkoff, 1937-1950
Rebecca Lepkoff , Peter Dans, Suzanne Wasserman

ISBN 9781568986067
Publication date 10/1/2006
8.5 x 11 inches (21.6 x 27.9 cm), Hardcover
192 pages, 170 b/w illustrations
Rights: World; Carton qty: 12; (-9.9)

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A young Rebecca Lepkoff, camera in hand, navigated the streets of the Lower East Side of New York in the 1930s and 1940s, before the Alfred E. Smith housing project largely demolished and forever changed its character. She captured the lives and times of a vibrant, close-knit, and functional multiethnic community. Through her lens, she documented street scenes--a woman stopping in front of a tenement to share some news, a fruit seller peddling her wares, a woman hanging laundry on a clothesline. Stoops, rooftops, fire escapes, and sidewalks in front of candy stores and delis were the preferred social and recreational locales. In the absence of playgrounds, children improvised outdoor play areas and congregated Saturday afternoons in front of the Loew's Canal.

Life on the Lower East Side, the first monograph of Lepkoff's works, highlights the lost neighborhood between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges from the Bowery to the East River. With over 170 beautifully reproduced duotone photographs and essays by Peter Dans and Suzanne Wasserman, the book reveals the dynamic community of Italians, Irish, Jews, Greeks, Spaniards, Chinese, Puerto Ricans, and African Americans. Lepkoff's images uncover a forgotten time and place and reveal how the Lower East Side has both stayed the same and changed forever.

Suzanne Wasserman is an historian and award-winning filmmaker. She has a Ph.D. in American History from New York University. She is the Associate Director of the Gotham Center for New York City History at the City University of New York, Graduate Center. She was an historical consultant on Ron Howard's film, Cinderella Man, starring Russell Crowe. A graduate of Manhattan College and Columbia Medical School, Peter Dans currently works on issues related to drug safety in the elderly. Dans, who writes a quarterly column as the "Physician at the Movies," has written a book about the portrayal of doctors in film titled Doctors in the Movies: Boil the Water and Just Say Aah!, and a children's book about the urban nesting of peregrine falcons, Perry's Baltimore Adventure: A Birds-eye View of Charm City.

Rebecca Lepkoff has exhibited her photographs at the International Center of Photography, The New York Public Library, Fourteenth Street YMCA, Pfeifer Gallery, Daniel Wolf Gallery, Howard Greenberg Gallery, and Henry Street Settlement. Her work is in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Canada, and Bank of America, among others. Her photographs appear in A History of Women Photographers by Naomi Rosenblum, Bystander: A History of Street Photography by Joel Meyerowitz and Colin Westerbeck, and Street Gangs by Sandra Gardiner. She is represented by the prestigious Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York City and still lives in New York City with her husband.

Editorial Reviews

Once There Was A Neighborhood, Italian America:
"photographer Rebeccca Lepkoff captured scenes from ... daily life in the 1930s and 1940s: butches and bakers at work; housewives hanging laundry; children playing in the streets." — DDS

The Lower East Side revealed, The Villager:
"These photos are a portrait of these immigrants strugggles." — Tonia Steed

"Lepkoff's photos freeze the dramas on the sidewalks, crisscrossed with the shadows of the Third Avenue El; and re-create the demolished tenements with their long-since scattered residents, who lived and labored in the neighborhood. . . . If you look hard at Lepkoff's pictures of Hester Street or Fulton Street, you can just about hear the snap of laundry on clotheslines, the laughter of girls skipping rope, and the shouts of fruit vendors rolling their pushcarts on the cobblestones."

"...anyone, certainly anyone who has ever visited the constantly receding remnant of the old Lower East Side, will find this book affecting...a unique volume of art that breathes life from every page."

Publishers Weekly:
"Pays homage to the multiethnic community on New Yorks Lower East Side."

Washington Sunday Times:
"Photographs that celebrate the Lower East Side as it was . . . These are not merely records of what a few people looked like, but are instead vital performances of life and human nature. . . Any art director from Hollywood could only pray for the detail and inspiration contained in Lepkoff's pictures."

Sit, Eat Something, John Hopkins Magazine:
"The first monograph of photographs by Rebecca Lepkoff, who cronicled life in this vibrant, multi-ethnic neighborhood before its buildings were razed in 1950 to make room for the Alfred E. Smith housing project." — Catherine Pierre

Library Journal:
"Through their black-and-white photos, readers can visit an America that no longer exists, a Depression-era society of musical movies and Burma-Shave sign. Petrov and Ilf . . . captured scenes of everyday America and history in the making. "

"This is an impressive collection of photographs depicting life amid the slum conditions and abject poverty of New York City's Lower East Side. The photographs offer a brief history of an era long gone, but their predominant themes remain today. The book succeeds, in part, by telling a pictorial history of the Lower East Side and reminding viewers of the inevitable change that takes place in communities. . . . Highly recommended."

The New York Times:
"In the 1930's and 40's, a little-known photographer named Rebecca Lepkoff scoured the Lower East Side. She was born in 1916 to Russian Jews and was raised in the teeming immigrant district, but she managed to cast a fresh eye on her familiar streets. Indeed, they became her muse. . . (Her) photography captured the ever-changing community in a way that paralleled the change in her life."

"The living conditions were deplorable, but Lepkoff's subjects transmit a keen vitality as they go about their daily lives."

B&W magazine:
"The book is a virtual walking tour--a surprise waits as you round each corner.A student at the Photo League, Lepkoff's curious eye documented everything from dock workers at the South Street Seaport to endearing pictures of children playing. Lepkoff's New York moments are delightful revelations."

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