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Rediscovering Jacob Riis: Exposure Journalism and Photography in Turn-of-the-Century New York

Rediscovering Jacob Riis: Exposure Journalism and Photography in Turn-of-the-Century New York (Paperback)

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Before publishing his pioneering book How the Other Half Lives - a photojournalistic investigation into the poverty of New York's tenement houses - Jacob Riis (1849-1914) spent his first years in the United States as an immigrant and itinerant laborer, barely surviving on his carpentry skills until he landed a job as a muckraking reporter. These early experiences provided Riis with an empathy for the lives of immigrants that would shine through in his iconic photos. With Rediscovering Jacob Riis, Bonnie Yochelson and Daniel Czitrom place Jacob Riis' images in historical context. In the first half of their book, Czitrom explores Riis' reporting and activism within the gritty specifics of Gilded Age New York: its new immigrants, its political machines, its fiercely competitive journalism, its evangelical reformers, and its labor movement. Czitrom shows that though Riis argued for charity, not sociopolitical justice, the empathy that drove his work continues to inspire urban reformers today.

In the second half of the book, Yochelson describes Riis' photographic practice: his initial reliance on amateur photographers to take the photographs he needed, his own use of the camera, and then his collecting of photographs by professionals documenting social reform efforts for government agencies and charities. She argues that while Riis is rightly considered a revolutionary in the history of photography, he was not a photographic artist. Instead, Riis was a writer and lecturer who first harnessed the power of photography to affect social change. As staggering inequality continues to be a hot political topic, this book, illustrated with nearly seventy of Riis' photographs, will serve as a stunning reminder of what has changed, and what has not.

Bonnie Yochelson was curator of prints and photographs at the Museum of the City of New York and teaches in the MFA Photography, Video, and Related Media Department at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. She is the author, most recently, of Alfred Stieglitz New York. Daniel Czitrom is professor of history at Mount Holyoke College, the author of Media and the American Mind, and coauthor of Out of Many.

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