Leo Goldstein (1901 – 1972) The fourth of 13 children, Leo Goldstein was born in Kishniev in the Bessarabian region of Czarist Russia. In 1906, his family immigrated to New York City to flee the Anti-Jewish pogroms. At a young age, Goldstein was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was forced to drop out of high school before finishing.
Despite his lack of formal education, Goldstein was an accomplished artist and artisan. He sculpted in stone, plaster and wood, which brought a keen eye for detail and beauty to his photographic work. His artistry was all the more remarkable because it was an avocation, carried on while he did office work to earn a living.
In the late 1940s, Goldstein joined the Photo League, studying photography and working with the likes of Paul Strand and Berenice Abbott, among others. Goldstein participated in the exhibit This Is the Photo League (1948 – 1949). His photographs have appeared in numerous exhibitions surveying the Photo League such as the 2011Jewish Museum exhibition The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League, 1936-1951. His work also features in the publication, This Was the Photo League (2000).
Like many Photo League photographers, Goldstein took an interest in social documentary work. From 1949-52, Goldstein spent three years photographing street scenes, children playing, and portraits of individuals in New York’s El Barrio and Harlem communities. Taking his cue from Photo League member, Lewis Hine, Goldstein also produced a series of images exploring construction sites around New York City.
In the mid-1960s, Goldstein began to photograph the stone carvings, ironwork and other decorative elements on brownstones on the Upper West Side of Manhattan where he lived. He soon began to photograph some of the distinctive architecture of the buildings themselves. Goldstein was motivated by a deep concern that new construction and changes in the neighborhood at that time might lead to the destruction of these beautiful buildings. During this time, he also traveled to Guatemala and Mexico to photograph the countryside.
Goldstein died in 1972, after a long illness. At the time of his death, Goldstein was working on a book of architectural photographs highlighting the stone carvings and decorative ironwork in New York buildings. As a sculptor himself, he had a deep appreciation of the carvings produced by stonemasons working at the turn of the 20th century. Unfortunately this work was never finished.