Max Yavno (1911-1985) was a photographer who specialized in street scenes, especially in Los Angeles and San Francisco, California. The son of Russian immigrants, Yavno was born in New York on April 26, 1911. He had one sister. He was married at age 19 and divorced three years later. He died in April 1985 of complications resulting from a fall in a shower. Yavno worked as a Wall Street messenger while attending City College of New York at night. He attended the graduate school of political economics at Columbia University and worked in the Stock Exchange before becoming a social worker in 1935. He did photography for the Works Progress Administration from 1936 to 1942. He was president of the Photo League in 1938 and 1939. Yavno was in the U.S. Air Force from 1942 to 1945, after which he moved to San Francisco and began specializing in urban-landscape photography.
History professor Constance B. Schulz said of him: "For financial reasons he worked as a commercial advertising photographer for the next twenty years (1954–75), creating finely crafted still lifes that appeared in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. He returned to artistic landscape photography in the 1970s, when his introspective approach found a more appreciative audience. Funding from the National Endowment for the Arts enabled him to travel to Egypt and Israel in 1979."
He also captured a pre-Dodgers Chavez Ravine, a giant plaster leg on top of a building in West Los Angeles and a "nostalgic" shot of a cable car being turned around at Powell and Market streets in San Francisco.
His noted photograph of a crowd watching "sun-worshipping bodybuilders at Muscle Beach in Venice"
sold at auction in 1984 for almost $4,000. He said he had spent three Sundays at the beach before the subjects "stopped flexing for his camera and resumed posing for each other."
His obituary in the Los Angeles Times
said that: Melrose Avenue photo gallery owner G. Ray Hawkins, who represented Yavno and exhibited his works, called him a "social documentarian"
and noted that he had "a very special ability for combining composition and content while capturing his social vignettes."
Photographer Edward Steichen
selected twenty of Yavno's prints for the permanent collection at New York's Museum of Modern Art
in 1950, and the next year Yavno won a Guggenheim Fellowship
Yavno graduated from City College of New York in 1932 and earned a graduate degree in business administration from Columbia University in 1933. Originally employed as a social worker for the New York Home Relief Bureau (1935), he was later hired by the Works Progress Administration to photograph city locations for use in theater set design (1936-42). Yavno joined the Photo League in the late 1930s, serving as president in 1938-39 and participating in several exhibitions. He became friends with Consuelo Kanaga, who mentored him in his photographic work. He worked with Aaron Siskind
on his unfinished project The Most Crowded Block in the World
(1941). Yavno was drafted into the Army Air Force that year, but remained on detached service in New York. He later moved to California, where he provided illustrative photographs for two books: The San Francisco Book
, with Herb Caenn (1948) and The Los Angeles Book
, with Lee Shippey (1950). In the mid-seventies, Yavno resumed noncommercial photography, expanding his terrain from the streets of New York City and Los Angeles to those of Jerusalem and Cairo.
Source: The Jewish Museum