Discuss the role and contributions of New York Photo League in American society.

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The 1936 interest-based group known as the Photo League consisted on a group mostly made of first generation Jewish men from Manhattan island, New York.  Their goal was to break away from the modern, aesthetic, and artificial expression that they believed was a common trend in Art, especially photography. Instead, they focused on the reality of life in New York streets complete with the good, the bad, and the ugly.

In a manner that resembles current photography, members of the league would go everywhere with their cameras. Their exploration included life in the ghettos as well as in the city. They saw New York as an exploratory lab where everything and anything could be discovered. Moreover, they also met as students to analyze the emotion behind the photographer: could it be possible that the photographer brings out the meaning of the picture? To answer this question, the group would hold sessions of nothing but contemplation, discovery, and the discussion of the emotional side of photography.

Inspired by the socialist ideal of equality among men (a trend in the 1930's) the league brought New York to the world along with all that it had to offer. The expressionism found in the pictures resembles the current trend of documentary or journalistic photography. The legacy of the Photo League is that it was they who witnessed and produced first class visuals of the strongest and most transformational periods of American history, namely, the Depression, the Second World War, and the "Boom", or the beginnings of the Cold War.

It is safe to conclude that the league was the pioneering group that began to seek reality in a conduit that was meant to produce aesthetic and commercial products. They were the first group to think of New York as a place whose good and bad was still worthy of being photographed, so that the images of this growing, changing city could remain in the world's psyche forever. Nowhere before has the average American been at the center-stage of Art. It is precisely the fact that the league focused on simplicity, genuine emotion, and in a social and creative combination that made them as successful as they were.

As a final note, out of nearly ninety six alumni of the league, at least sixty have ranged among the most celebrated photographers in American history. This is also a worthy mention because it shows how the vision of the league continued even as it closed its doors in 1951.

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