Photographic legend Harold Feinstein passed away on June 20 at the age of 84. He will be immortalized through his photographs and through the memories of those who knew him. As both a friend and supporter of Feinstein’s work, Panopticon Gallery owner Jason Landry reflects on the passing of this great photographer.
Harold was an important artist to me and to many through Panopticon Gallery and our photo community. He was a teacher, mentor, and a damn good photographer. He was always in a great mood and sincerely grateful for all of the things that we were able to accomplish. Even in his eighties, many telephone calls ended with Harold saying, “Jason, if I can help you in the gallery in any way, let me know.”
Harold also had some of the best one-liners and quotes than anyone that I’ve ever met. His most popular one was: “When your mouth drops open, click the shutter.” This quote…this mantra was the key to the success of Harold’s picture making. If the view, or the scene, or the person, or the object in front of you is so unbelievable, or so good that you just can’t pass it up, make that image—take that picture. Every photographer out there knows what he meant. Looking back, the very first interview that I ever did with Harold Feinstein was published by Big Red & Shiny—6 years ago today.
Harold Feinstein was born in Coney Island in 1931. He began his career in photography in 1946 at the age of 15 and within four short years, Edward Steichen, an early supporter, had purchased his work for the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). He joined the Photo League at 17 and became a prominent figure in the vanguard of the early New York City street photography scene where he exhibited at Helen Gee’s Limelight Gallery and was a designer for historic Blue Note Records. He was one of the original inhabitants of the legendary “Jazz Loft,” which he later turned over to his long-time collaborator and colleague W. Eugene Smith for whom he designed the original layout of the famous Pittsburgh Project.
Harold was also renowned as a teacher. In his early 20’s he began teaching in New York City. In addition to his private workshops held in his studio, he has taught at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communications, Philadelphia Museum School, School of Visual Arts, the University of Massachusetts, Maryland Institute of Art, Windham College, and College of the Holy Cross. In 2011 at the age of 80, he was given The Living Legend Award by the Griffin Museum of Photography.
In 2012, a large collection of his classic black and white street photographs, nudes, portraits and still life images were published in the book, Harold Feinstein: A Retrospective by Nazraeli Press. In 2013, Photo District News listed it as one of the best photography books of the year.
Over the last few years, Harold’s work had been on display in galleries from Boston to Dallas, Atlanta, to even Moscow, Russia, and some of his work is currently in a national touring museum exhibition called Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland. For me, the last 6 years working with and for Harold Feinstein has been a gift….a true labor of love and an educational experience. I hope that you will all help us to keep his legacy alive. He was the real deal.
Jason Landry is the Owner and Director of Panopticon Gallery in Boston, Massachusetts.