was an American photographer of the 20th century whose work included streetscapes, portraits and architectural images of New York and Paris. His work has been highly regarded because of its humanity and capturing the life and reality of the people and streets. Starting in 1947, Stettner photographed the changes in the people, culture, and architecture of both cities. He continued to photograph New York and Paris up until his death.
My way of life, my very being is based on images capable of engraving themselves indelibly in our inner soul’s eye.
-- Louis Stettner
Louis Stettner was born in Brooklyn, New York, where he was one of four children. His father was a cabinet maker, and Louis learned the trade when young, using the money he earned to support his growing love of photography. He was given a box camera as a child, and his love affair with photography began. His family went on trips to Manhattan and visited museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art
, where his love of art began.
At 18, in 1940, Stettner enlisted in the United States army and became a combat photographer in Europe for the Signal Corps. After a brief stint in Europe he was sent to New Guinea, the Philippines, and Japan.
Back from the war Stettner joined the Photo League
in New York. Stettner visited Paris in 1946 and in 1947 moved there. From 1947 to 1949 he studied at the Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques
in Paris and received a Bachelor of Arts in Photography & Cinema. He went back and forth between New York and Paris for almost two decades and finally settled permanently in Saint-Ouen, near Paris, in 1990. Stettner still frequently returned to New York.
Stettner's professional work in Paris began with capturing life in the post-war recovery. He captured the everyday lives of his subjects. In the tradition of the Photo League, he wanted to investigate the bonds that connect people to one another. In 1947 he was asked by the same Photo League to organize an exhibition of French photographers in New York. He gathered the works of some of the greatest photographers of the era, including Robert Doisneau
, George Brassaï
, Edouard Boubat
, and Willy Ronis
. The show was a big success and was largely reviewed in the annual issue of U.S. Camera
. Stettner had begun a series of regular meetings with Brassaï
who was a great mentor and had a significant influence on his work. In 1949, Stettner had his first exhibition at the Salon des Indépendants
at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France
Brassaï showed me that it was possible to find something significant in photographing subjects in everyday life doing ordinary things by interpreting them in your own way and with your own personal vision.
-- Louis Stettner
In 1951 his work was included in the famous Subjektive Fotografie
exhibition in Germany. During the 1950s he freelanced for Time Magazine
, and Du
(Germany). While in Paris he reconnected with Paul Strand
, who had also left New York because of the political intolerance of the McCarthy era—Strand had been a founder of the Photo League that would be blacklisted and then banned during those years.
In the 1970s Stettner spent more time in New York City, where he taught at Brooklyn College, Queens College, and Cooper Union.
In his own work, Stettner focused on documenting the lives of the working class in both Paris and New York. He felt that the cities belong to the people who live there, not to tourists or visitors. His upbringing caused him to take great care in capturing the simple human dignity of the working class. He also captured noteworthy architectural images of both cities, including bridges, buildings, and monuments. Stettner produced well-known images, including: Aubervilliers, Brooklyn Promenade, Twin Towers with Sea Gull, Penn Station, and the Statue of Liberty, Battery Park.
In his nineties, Stettner turned to a large format camera of the dimensions used by his hero, Paul Strand; an 8×10 Deardorff in order to photograph details of the landscape of Les Alpilles in Provence
where Van Gogh often painted, assisted by his wife Janet. Stettner received numerous honors, and in 1950 he was named Life's top new photographer. In 1975 he won First Prize in the Pravda World Contest.
Louis Stettner’s works are posthumously managed by the Louis Stettner Estate