This exhibition presents a series of humanizing and intimate photographs by Sid Grossman (b. 1913, New York; d. 1955, Provincetown, Massachusetts). Grossman was a founding member of the Photo League (1936–51), a group of primarily Jewish photographers active in New York, who used their medium to shed light on issues of social inequality in the urban environment following the Great Depression. The league ceased to function in 1951, four years after it was blacklisted as a subversive political group during the second Red Scare—a period in American politics and culture that centered on an intense fear of communism.
Grossman focused his camera on his immediate environment. He understood photography as a tool for social awareness, imbued with the moral imperative to provide new ways to see and capture reality. He urged his students from the Photo League to cultivate personal and ethical reflections on their surroundings, encouraging their development of more than just a strictly documentary eye. This personal and political ideology pushed Grossman to produce captivating images portraying the poor and the underprivileged and eventually placed him under FBI investigation.
Drawing primarily from PAMM’s collection, Sid Grossman: Photography, Politics, and the Ethical Image presents works produced between the late 1930s and the mid-1940s. These include a series of earlier photographs that depict New York street scenes, tenements, and daily life, revealing modes of survival in the face of economic hardship. Images produced while Grossman was stationed in Panama hang alongside a large selection of works created during a trip to the Dust Bowl, where he photographed labor unions and rural living conditions in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Missouri.