Erika Stone doesn’t remember the exact day but in 1951 the adventurous photographer spent a day at Ellis Island. A German immigrant whose father was held at Ellis Island briefly, before he moved the family to New York in 1936, Stone didn’t photograph Ellis Island with the gaze of a passerby, but with the awareness of a passer-through. This previously unpublished portfolio of Ellis Island photographs shows a glimpse of how Ellis Island functioned before its closing in 1954. On its first day of operation 700 immigrants passed through Ellis Island in 1892. Before the first immigration station opened in 1855, at what is now Castle Clinton, immigrants arrived directly at Manhattan’s various harbors and entered without being monitored.
Discovering how people lived, survived and thrived in urban conditions was Stone’s primary photographic direction. In the vast archives of Stone’s work we find sophisticated street photography compositions, casual glances of lovers in the park, exuberant neighborhood personalities, and the playfulness of children. A street photographer making frequent trips to the ethnically diverse neighborhoods of New York City’s boroughs, Stone photographed people from various walks of life, unimpeded by racial and economic divides marking the times and places in which Stone worked. Born in 1924, Stone studied photography at the New School of Social Research with Berenice Abbott and George Tice. A member of the New York Photo League and a stringer for Time and Der Spiegel in the 1940s, Stone made hundreds of photographs before, during, and after raising two boys in New York City.
Home to the world’s largest immigrant population, the US counts 41 million New Americans among its population. As conservative political conversations point to strategies for thickening walls of separation, a recent Pew study shows that US population is more accepting of New Americans, although it’s really by a small percentage. During its first year nearly 450,000 immigrants passed through Ellis Island, while this year alone 300,000 migrants and refugees have arrived in Greece, trying to reach other EU countries.
As we live through the world’s largest refugee crisis on record, will European Union countries ever view migrants as “New Europeans”? Are the processes of immigration reform in the US transferrable to the EU? Are the motivations for building Hungary’s razor wire fence really so different from “The Great Wall of Mexico”? I’m using the term migrant in reference to displaced people with uncompleted legal processes of claiming asylum, fleeing war-torn countries, and economic migrants. I pose this question because the value we place on migrant and refugee lives changes how we talk about them, how we choose images to portray this urgent humanitarian condition. David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister, asserted that Britain was doing “enough” for migrants and refugees, but quickly moderated his position after being “deeply moved” by seeing photographs of Aylan Kurdi. To look at photographs of people in crisis without establishing a social value for such lives is a grave mistake.
The Nov. 13, 1950 issue of LIFE featured an editorial on Ellis Island with photographs by Alfred Eisenstaedt and a text describing the Island as a “…gray and gloomy place suddenly full of bewildered people who have become victims of American politics.” Stone’s focus on the Island was not limited to the concerned photography ethos of the ‘40s and ‘50s New York: Stone takes us through the daily rituals of living in limbo: sleeping, eating, socializing, grooming. What we see in Stone’s photographs of Ellis Island is very a different view from Eisenstadt’s in 1950, and from Lewis Hine’s longer series. Both Eisenstaedt and Hine focused on people and their physical markers of displacement, while Stone captured unexpected daily contexts, such as two men walking to the dining hall, a flood of light illuminating the back of a neck close to the blade.
When Erika Stone made these photographs in 1951, one million people had yet to find settlement, due to the migrant crisis of WWII, according to a UN report. Revisiting Stone’s photographs in comparison to today’s images of immigration control and containment brings us closer to the larger history of photography centered around the human experience of crossing borders in order to live.
Day in Ellis Island, 1951
An unpublished portfolio of photographs by Erika Stone
As mentioned in my first post, this summer I joined Baxter St at CCNY to present a monthly selection of ten not-to-be missed photographs in New York City.
Observing how social movements shape themselves around photography is often rewarding study. This list presents several works linked to modern movements supported by visual shape shifting: Soviet era optic tactics, Japanese avant garde, American experimental culture, Mexican revolutionaries, the aftermath of colonialism, and two first shows by European women in the US.
Images function both within and outside a matrix of contexts, reading photographs requires more and more attention to nuance. What people define as the digital revolution is only a natural continuation of a medium that, despite it’s historical dependence on this word, has never been “fixed.” Contemporary digital imaging has grown from strong conceptual legacies in photography that raises expectations of, and contextualize, our visual potentials.
With so many excellent shows going on this month, I’d like to highlight a few artists/curators part of the CCNY community at large who continue evolving with the social roles within image cultures: “I need my memories. They are my documents” at Sepia EYE, curated by Nandita Raman; Marvin Heiferman organized an excellent show closing this week, “Watching You, Watching Me;” Nona Faustine has an upcoming exhibition and panel discussion this weekend, co-curated by Qiana Mestrich; Christian Erroi has an upcoming show at Duvernois Gallery.
Much to see and explore.
Hope you enjoyed this “Top 10” monthly series!
Yakov Khalip, Large-Bore Cannon, Baltic Fleet, 1935.
Currently showing in the “Soviet Photography 1920s-1930s” group show at Nailya Alexander Gallery.
September 9 –October 30, 2015
Artists in the 1920s were still processing ideas from the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, maintaining that a new era required new ways of seeing, new tools, new constructions.
Hiroshi Yamazaki, Heliography, 1978.
Currently showing in the “Experiments in Japanese Art and Photography, 1968-1979” group show at Grey Art Gallery.
September 11 –December 5, 2015
A not-t0-be-missed exhibition in general, Yamazaki’s series of photographs of the sun’s travel are a luminous treat. As we prepare for the upcoming Supermoon Eclipse that will most likely dominate our social media feeds, it’s a good time to experience how pre-digital photography recorded such events.
Yola Monakhov Stockton, Untitled (Post-Photography)[P93], 2015
Currently showing Rick Wester Fine Art.
September 12 –October 24, 2015
Fusing the dominant subject matter present in the last two photographs (disorienting space, travel around the globe), Monakhov Stockton shows us the strange orbit of pinhole photographs made en route, from photo boxes mailed to herself.
Anne Schwalbe, See/Lake, 2008.
Currently showing in “The Life Within” at L. Parker Stephenson
July 1 – September 12, 2015
The first solo show of this German photographer who makes their own C prints.
Juan Guzmán. Frida holding a mirror in the hospital, ca.1951
Currently showing in the “Frida Kahlo, Mirror Mirror…” show at Throckmorton Fine Art.
Closes September 19th.
Combined with a small exhibition of Kahlo’s paintings at the Haupt Conservatory of the New York Botanical Garden, New York City art goers can now examine the importance of mirrors in Kahlo’s process: From seeing her representation in photographs by her father to relying on mirrors as a tool for painting. Notably absent in both shows are images by photographer Tina Modotti.
Joseph Modica, A Night at Danceteria (Ethyl Eichelberger, Keith Haring, Cookie Mueller & John Sex), 1984.
Currently showing in the “Party Out Of Bounds: Nightlife As Activism Since 1980” group show at La Mama Galleria.
September 18–October 10, 2015
Not quite holding court from the bed as Kahlo was known to do, Modica’s photograph of Ethyl Eichelberger at Danceteria registers the heightened emotions of a time when nightlife in the East Village belonged to artists and friends, famous or not, who knew how make an art event also a site for political awareness—social media experts, do take note! As the next artist, Bill Beckley, said: “We didn’t call it ‘Soho’ it was just ‘downtown’.“
Bill Beckley, Deirdre’s Lips, 1978.
Currently showing in Beckley’s solo show “The Accidental Poet (The Avoidance of Everything)
Bill Beckley—1968-1978″ at Albertz Benda.
September 10 – October 3, 2015
Beckley has been engaging conceptually with photography, and through impeccable mastery of color, since the late sixties. Seeing this show in relation to #2 on this very list, “Experiments in Japanese Art and Photography, 1968-1979” shows us a variety of experimentation when photography as an art form wasn’t yet institutionally considered an art form.
Helen Keller at home in Forrest Hills, circa 1920s. Courtesy of the American Foundation for the Blind.
Currently shown in the group show “Leading the Way: Six Outstanding Women of Queens” at Queens Historical Society.
Closes May 2016.
Found in a small exhibition big on community engagement, Keller’s gesture demonstrates the importance of touch as another form of seeing, reading, and communicating.
Delphine Burtin, Encouble.
Currently showing at Benrubi Gallery.
September 10 – October 24, 2015
The first solo show of a Swiss photographer continuing in the photographic tradition of abandoning expected perceptions of physical space.
Ractliffe’s continued engagement with Angola’s post-colonial complexity has led to a body of work focused on restoring “a place for memory” in sites marked by conflict, erasure, and displacement. Photographs from this series are featured in the South African pavilion of this year’s Venice Biennale.
Grey Art Gallery, 100 Washington Square East, New York, NY
La Mama Galleria, 47 Great Jones Street, New York, NY
Albertz Benda, 516 West 26th Street, New York, NY
Benrubi Gallery, 521 West 26th Street, 2nd Floor, New York, NY
Rick Wester Fine Art, 526 West 26th Street, Suite 417, New York, NY
Nailya Alexander Gallery, 41 E 57th Street, Suite 704, New York, NY
Throckmorton Fine Art, 145 East 57th Street, 3RD floor, New York, NY
L. Parker Stephenson, 764 Madison Ave #4f, New York, NY
Queens Historical Society, 143-35 37th Avenue, Flushing, New York
Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue (at 82nd Street), New York, NY