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Under the 3rd Ave. El, 1947

Under the 3rd Ave. El, 1947

Rebecca Lepkoff (1916-2014) grew up in a tenement on Hester Street. Her father was a tailor and the family bounced around various Lower East Side addresses as they struggled to improve their circumstances. She bought her first camera in 1938 and started photographing her native city. She married in 1941, settling in a nearby tenement on Cherry Street, where she had three children and focused her lens on the world she inhabited. Lepkoff developed her eye under the tutelage of Arnold Eagle, the first of many idealistic Jewish photographers—including Sid Grossman, Paul Strand, and Walter Rosenblum—who introduced her to the Photo League and encouraged her to continue to document the city. Like so many left-leaning New York photographers who came of age during the Great Depression—many of them recent Jewish immigrants or first-generation Americans—Lepkoff soon found her classroom and home at the famed Photo League, where she encountered a large group of like-minded members who believed in the power of the documentary photograph.

Her work has been featured in a number of books, galleries, and museum exhibits, including A History of Women Photographers by Naomi Rosenblum; Bystander: A History of Street Photography by Joel Meyerowitz and Colin Westerbeck; and The Radical Camera, New York’s Photo League (1936-1951). In 2006, a monograph of her work, Life on the Lower East Side: Photographs by Rebecca Lepkoff, 1937-1950, was published that includes essays by Peter E. Dans and Suzanne Wasserman.

Lepkoff's work is included in the collections of the National Museum of Art (Washington D.C.) the National Gallery of Canada, and the Museum of the City of New York.