SONIA HANDELMAN MEYER
Artist Information
Photo League Years
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Artist Statement                                                                
                                                                                                                        

I first heard of the Photo League from Lou Stoumen in Puerto Rico, in 1942.   I was working for the US Army Signal Corps and Lou was preparing to join Yank Magazine.  When I returned to New York City, I walked up the rickety stairs to League Headquarters and took a beginners class with Johnny Ebstel. I bought a used Rolleicord for a precious $100, and dared to go out on the city streets to photograph the life around me.

Soon the guys began to come back from the war and the heady life of Photo League workshops, exhibits, lectures, photo hunts, and committee assignments intensified.  I took eye-heart-soul opening workshops with Sid Grossman, worked as the paid (!) secretary for a year or so, and worked on the Lewis Hine Committee under Marynn Ausubel. Jack Deschin showed pictures of our workshop exhibition (including my Apple Lady) in the New York Times.

Morris Huberland and I volunteered to take stills at Sydenham Hospital in Harlem for a fund raising film and our photos were exhibited at the League. I photographed in Spanish Harlem, in Greenwich Village in midtown Manhattan, at the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society, at an anti-lynching rally in Madison Square Park, at a Jehovah’s Witness convention in Yankee Stadium, and on Coney Island. Mostly, I photographed children and reflections of my city--- rough-edged, tender and very beautiful in its diversity. Some of this work was shown in the major 1949 exhibition, This is the Photo League.

The heartbreaking end of the League coincided with a huge change in my personal life.  I got married and my husband began to go to college and we were out of NY for a while. I took a workshop with David Vestal and shot a little more of the city, worked as a medical photographer for a short while, very unhappily, and then through David’s recommendation, worked with Ralph Steiner in a public relations firm.  Working under Ralph was a great experience.  During all this time my husband and I were helping build a family house in the foothills of the Catskills -- city girl is introduced to nature. I began to shoot wildflowers and trees and to revel in grasses and leaves. And then the biggest change: our own family arrived and the joys of our son, and later our daughter, absorbed my time.

Prints and negatives were stashed away in boxes and I lost track of all the old friends at the League.  In 1978, I was thrilled when Anne Tucker found me, interviewed me, and used three of my photographs for the International Center of Photography exhibition This Was the Photo League.  But years went by while I was involved with serious family problems and my photos and my cameras were laid aside. In 2002, I moved to Charlotte, NC to be near my son and his family.  My son, Joe, a few years earlier, had met Lili Geer who was then a Professor of Art History at UNCC with a special interest and expertise in the Photo League.  She saw my photographic work and assigned one of her students to archive it.  Amanda Connolly and I worked for months cleaning, cataloging, and reintroducing my work to me.

In the next few years, my son began to show a few prints to people, including Hodges Taylor Gallery in Charlotte, NC where the work was warmly received. Carolyn DeMeritt, the devoted curator of photography, immediately began organizing an exhibition, engaging Carl Bergman, a talented photographer and outstanding printer, to print the work with my approval.  Negatives were studied, final choices were made, and "Into the Light" I went.  The opening reception at Hodges Taylor Gallery was jammed, and the interest in pictures of New York City in the 1940s has been extraordinary, continuing until today.  An offshoot of the show were invitations to exhibit at Wachovia Bank in Charlotte, Taylor Bercier Fine Art in New Orleans, Montgomery Museum of Fine Art, and Higher Pictures in New York where a new audience has been most supportive.  My photographs are now in the collections of the Jewish Museum, New York; Columbus Museum, Ohio; Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Alabama; and Bank of America.

After so many years of being in the shadows, you can imagine my pleasure, at 90 years of age, to have my photographs out of their boxes and onto walls where they can be seen, thought about, and enjoyed – and perhaps again take their place in the history of the Photo League.



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