Rediscovering Jacob Riis: Exposure Journalism and Photography in Turn-of-the-Century New York

Bonnie Yochelson, Author, Daniel Czitrom, Author
Bonnie Yochelson, Author, Daniel Czitrom, Author New Press $35 (268p) ISBN 978-1-59558-199-0
Reviewed on: 12/10/2007
Release date: 02/01/2008
Open Ebook - 297 pages - 978-1-322-02963-4
Paperback - 296 pages - 978-0-226-18286-5
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Art historian Yochelson and history professor Czitrom examine the life and legacy of Jacob Riis. Riis started out as a carpenter with some literary training who emigrated from Denmark to New York City in 1870, where the day-to-day lives of the impoverished fascinated him. His path to renown began in 1889 when his tenement housing reports appeared in Christian Union magazine. Riis then expanded his reportage to How the Other Half Lives , a bestseller, still considered a journalistic classic. Czitrom chronicles Riis’s life from his birth in 1849 to 1890; from there Yochelson carries the story to his death in 1914, studding her half of the book with Riis’s photographs. Riis did not consider himself a skilled photographer (and with good reason), but his images portray unforgettable people and settings. His reportage and photos—while somewhat flawed by personal and political biases—resonate today. Must so many new immigrants, he asked, begin their lives in the U.S. housed in slums? What should government, churches and private philanthropies do to help? Are some immigrant groups less likely to escape tenement life? These questions that guided Riis’s life will remind the reader that history is a useful instructor in the here and now. 95 b&w photos. (Feb.)

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