In an Instant

Photographs by Fred Stein

This retrospective presented Fred Stein’s prolific, many-layered body of work for the first time in Germany, exhibiting more than 130 black-and-white photographs, including street shots of Paris and New York as well as a great many portraits. 
To illuminate the photographer’s life and approach, the exhibit also featured private documents, original prints, and contact sheets.

Past exhibition

Map with all buildings that belong to the Jewish Museum Berlin. The Libeskind building is marked in green


Libeskind Building, ground level, Eric F. Ross Gallery
Lindenstraße 9–14, 10969 Berlin

Fred Stein

An instant can make the difference – whether in life or in photography. For the photographer Fred Stein, it was those brief moments that determined his life, both personally and professionally.

A brief introduction to the exhibition; Jewish Museum Berlin

Fred Stein was born in Dresden in 1909, the son of a rabbi. When the Nazis took power, the committed socialist was forced to give up his job as a lawyer and leave Germany. Under the pretext of taking a honeymoon trip, he escaped to Paris with his wife Lilo in 1933.

There he faced the challenge of building a new livelihood from scratch. Inspired by a Leica 35 mm camera – Fred and Lilo Stein’s wedding gift to each other – Fred Stein chose photography as his new profession.

The photo shows Fred Stein in the side profile while photographing. He is wearing a pinstripe jacket and a shirt without a tie.

Fred Stein, photographed by Lilo Stein (1910–1997), Paris 1937; Estate of Fred Stein CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“Dresden exiled me - so I became a photographer”—Fred Stein

In Paris, Fred Stein very soon established his own photography studio. From 1935 on, he contributed to several exhibitions with renowned photographers including Ilse Bing, Brassaï, Man Ray, Dora Maar, and André Kertész.

After the war broke out, the Steins were forced to flee a second time with the young daughter, born in 1938

They reached New York in 1941 on one of the last ships out. In the United States, Fred Stein resumed his photography, now using a medium-format Rolleiflex camera as well as the Leica. These easy-to-use cameras allowed him to stroll through the streets capturing the city and its people in brief but critical instants. All his life, he concentrated on street scenes and portraits.

Ilse Bing (1899–1998)

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Brassaï (1899–1984)

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Man Ray (1890–1976)

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Dora Maar (1907–1997)

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André Kertész (1894–1985)

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Fred Stein’s Biography (Timeline)
1909 Alfred "Fred" Stein is born in Dresden on 3 July, son of religion teacher Eva Stein (née Wollheim) and rabbi Leopold Stein
1919–1927 Attends König Georg High School in Dresden
Member of the socialist youth movement and of the Jewish youth association Die Kameraden (The Comrades)
1927–1932 Studies law in Heidelberg, Berlin, and Leipzig; clerkships in Dresden and Bautzen
Member of the Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany (SAPD), a left-wing breakaway from the Social Democratic Party
1933 Antisemitic restrictions on work mean he is dismissed from his legal clerkship and his doctoral thesis is rejected
August: Marries Liselotte "Lilo" Salzburg
October: Flees to Paris
From 1934 Residence in Paris
Shoots street scenes and portraits with the Leica
Establishes his own photography studio
1935 First joint exhibition with renowned photographers including Ilse Bing, Brassaï, Man Ray, Dora Maar, and André Kertész
1938 Birth of daughter Marion
1939–1941 Deportation and internment in various camps for "enemy aliens"
Escapes on foot through the South of France, where he rejoins his wife and daughter
1941 May: Emigration from Marseille to the United States on the SS Winnipeg with the help of Varian Fry and the Emergency Rescue Committee; takes with him his negatives and a selection of prints
Continues to photograph street scenes and portraits, now also using the Rolleiflex
1943 Birth of son Peter
1950 Severe hip pain forces him to give up street photography
1952 Gains US citizenship
1958 First trip to Germany after fleeing 25 years earlier
1967 Fred Stein dies in New York on 27 September, aged fifty-eight

Sociology of the Street

In the cities of his emigration – Paris in the 1930s, New York from the 1940s on – Fred Stein shot countless street scenes, including pictures of the Jewish quarters.

“One moment is all you have. Like a hunter in search of a target, you look for the sign that is more characteristic than all others.” 
—Fred Stein

As well as classic views of the two metropolises, he created many milieu studies and character portraits. Embedded in a sociological context of poverty and ordinary urban lives, they show road workers, sales assistants, homeless people, and family scenes.

Fred Stein’s gaze unites the everyday with a sense of the extraordinary moment. His pictures often show flashes of humor.

Psychology of the Portrait

Before taking his portrait photographs, Fred Stein always tried to get to know the person. He thought about their work and ideas. At times, the picture itself took second place to heated discussions. It was often only at the end of a session that the photograph was finally taken. Many of Stein’s portraits show the traces of these conversations.

“The camera makes no distinction between famous people and a nobody, between a good friend and a complete stranger, when the shutter opens.” 
—Fred Stein

More than 1,200 portraits were created in this way. Today, they read like a Who’s Who of prominent twentieth-century personalities. Fred Stein did not use dramatic light effects or retouch his negatives. For him, the point of portrait photography was to “create (through the medium of photography) a substitute for the living human being, a picture that says something about the outer and inner person,” as he explained in a letter.

An exhibition at the Jewish Museum Berlin, curated by Theresia Ziehe and Jihan Radjai.

Fred Stein

The Fred Stein Archive’s website features numerous photographs by Fred Stein, both portraits and street views of Paris and New York. It also includes other interesting content, such as a film about Fred Stein and pictures of the Fred Stein retrospective at the Jewish Museum Berlin. 
Fred Stein Archives website

Video recording of the exhibition opening on 21 November 2013 with the curators Theresia Ziehe and Jihan Radjai (in German); Jewish Museum Berlin

Peter Stein

Cinematographer Peter Stein, born in 1943 in New York, is Fred Stein’s son and trustee of his estate. 
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Exhibition Information at a Glance

  • When 22 Nov 2013 to 4 May 2014
  • Where Libeskind Building, ground level, Eric F. Ross Gallery
    Lindenstraße 9-14, 10969 Berlin 
    See Location on Map

Fred Stein’s son Peter at the exhibition opening on 21 November 2013; Jewish Museum Berlin

Further Locations of the Exhibition
Düsseldorf Fred Stein: Auf dem Weg. Dresden – Paris – New York 
17 Jan to 4 Jun 2017 
Mahn- und Gedenkstätte Düsseldorf
Dresden Fred Stein. Dresden – Paris – New York 
28 Apr to 7 Oct 2018 
Stadtmuseum Dresden


For their generous support, we would like to thank Peter Stein, Dawn Freer, and the Embassy of the United States of America.

Logo: Embassy of the United States of America/US-Botschaft

Media Partner

Logo: tip Berlin

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