My Week of Intensive Research into Fred Stein’s Archives
Contact sheet Brooklyn Bridge
© Estate of Fred Stein, photo: Theresia Ziehe
In June of 2012 I had the opportunity to delve into the estate of Fred Stein. During the preparation for our then-upcoming exhibition “In an Instant,” I travelled to the little town of Stanfordville, NY to visit Peter Stein, the photographer’s son and archive administrator. For a week, I studied the voluminous and multi-faceted material stored in various rooms of the private residence. It was an unforgettable immersion into the life and work of Fred Stein.
Hundreds of negatives, kept in fireproof cabinets, make up the core of the collection. Their differing formats point to the two cameras Stein photographed with: coiled strips of Leica negatives and individually packaged 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 inches negatives in pergamin sheets from the Rolleiflex. The cameras themselves unfortunately didn’t survive. Among these negatives, you can see Stein’s first shots of Dresden shortly before he emigrated to Paris in 1933. → continue reading
Teddy bear that belonged to Ilse Jacobson (1920-2007), textile, straw, glass, ca. 1920 to 1930, in our online collection
56,250. This is the number that comes up when I search our collection’s database for its complete holdings. 56,250 data sets describing, for the most part, individual objects, and occasionally entire mixed lots. You can now see 6,300 of these objects online. Releasing this information to the public provokes mixed feelings on the part of museum staff: we have a lot to say about many of these objects. Many of them don’t speak for themselves. You can’t tell, for instance, that this teddy bear belonged to a child leaving Germany on a Kindertransport. The meaning of many documents and photographs lies likewise to a large extent in their biographical or political history. They require sufficient detail and well-chosen catchwords to help visitors find other objects related to the same topic.
With this project, we have to proceed pragmatically. 15-30 minutes of working time per object is a lot if you have to inventory a mixed lot with 250 units. We verify everything, including things that occur to us as we’re working. We are aware that there’s more to write about – and there would be more to correct, – if we had the time for more thorough research. Yet we can only make forays into the library or even into the archive for special projects or particularly important objects. And so we rely to a great extent on digital sources. → continue reading
Opening this Friday at the Eric F. Ross Gallery
Fred Stein is a photographer whose work and biography leave no one unmoved. Some of his portraits are famous—those of Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt for example—yet Fred Stein himself is not a household name. The young lawyer was forced to flee Germany in 1933. He went first to Paris, and then in 1941 to New York. In these cities of exile he made photography his new profession, producing numerous street scenes and portraits.
“In An Instant” struck us as an apt title for the exhibition of his extensive oeuvre scheduled to open at the Jewish Museum Berlin on 22 November. This title highlights Fred Stein’s talent for capturing his subjects at the decisive moment, spontaneously, and without elaborate preparations—a natural talent, incidentally, for he was a self-taught amateur.
Fred Stein’s special gift of observation is evident in the photograph “Little Italy” (New York, 1943), one of our many favorites. → continue reading