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Remembering Harold Feinstein Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

1 July 2015

Harold Feinstein, who at the age of 17 was one of the youngest members of the New York Photo League, passed away June 20 in Merrimac, Mass. at 84. Born in Coney Island on April 17, 1931, he seemed to recall, "I like to think I fell out of the womb on to the fun park's giant Parachute Jump while eating a Nathan's hot dog."

When he was 15, he borrowed a neighbor's Rolleiflex and started following the advice he would later give his students in workshops and at the University of Pennsylvania, the School of Visual Arts and the Philadelphia Museum school. "When your mouth drops open, click the shutter."

He found Coney Island, a place where your mouth often drops open, irresistible. And his candid black-and-whites of America at play made him famous.

One of his subjects there, the Great Fredini, remembered Feinstein's attachment to Coney Island:

While he photographed other things, I think Coney Island was central to his voice and he impeccably captured the neighborhood's soul. His work is a celebration of the human condition and the American spirit. Coney Island is the place where all peoples come together and emotions of joy, laughter, love, loneliness, friendship and all of life are there for us to experience in his work. It's somehow fitting to know that he chose to leave this world on June 20th, the day of the Mermaid Parade.

Feinstein dropped out of high school at 16 before joining Richard Avedon, Robert Frank, Weegee and Edward Weston in the Photo League two years later. By the time he was 19, Edward Steichen had purchased a few of his images for the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.

In 1952 he was drafted into the Army, serving in the Korean War, whose story he told through his lens. After shows at the Whitney and MOMA, he had a 1957 solo show at the George Eastman House in Rochester.

While he shot black-and-white at Coney Island for half a century, he also experimented in color in the 1980s, shooting 35mm photographs of flowers and seashells. In the late 1990s, he began experimenting with digital photography using a scanner as a camera. He called the new technique scanography.

His 2000 book One Hundred Flowers features color portraits of dahlias, roses, anemones, poppies, pansies orchids, tulips, azaleas, peonies and other flowers, all captured using a scanner. It led to a series of seven books covering fruits, vegetables, seashells and butterflies.

This brief, 13:21 video titled Uninterrupted Seeing highlights Feinstein's career and includes not only his work, admired by a few colleagues, but a few clips featuring him as well:

"The thing is that pictures are everywhere," he once said. "The question is what we don't see and why don't we see so much."

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