I came to photography quite by accident. I had no idea what I wanted to be when I was growing up, in a middle-class family living in a middle-class section of Brooklyn. I used to go to the library to read about occupations. I started with the A's Agriculture, Archaeology, Architecture - but never made it as far as the P's. When I was 17, I left school and worked at an assortment of jobs - truck driver, salesman, office manager, assembly line worker. Finally, I worked in a wholesale glass plant, where I seriously injured my right hand and lost the use of it for fourteen months. I began to search for a way to make a living. A friend suggested that if I studied photography at the Photo League, I might be able to get a job as a darkroom technician. I registered for a beginning class at the League. Two weeks later I knew that photography would be my life's work.
My life as a photographer began in the streets of the city. For me, New York, with its diverse cultures and varied topography, presented a new challenge every day. My days were spent shooting with my 9 x 12cm Zeiss Ikon camera; my nights in the darkroom and in discussion with other students and photographers. I was obsessed. It was in New York that I honed my skills and began to learn about the world and about myself.
In 1943, while working on The Newspaper PM, I shot my first major photo essay, "Children's Games." The streets were an extension of the home. They were the living rooms and the playgrounds, particularly for the poor whose crowded tenements left little room for play. The children occupied the streets, now and then allowing a car or truck to pass.
Over the years, I have worked as staff and freelance photographer for a wide variety of publications. My assignments and my independent projects took me all over and under the city, always searching for the human face of New York. I photographed people on the subways and on the beach in Coney Island, painters working on the Brooklyn Bridge, kids swimming in the East River; I photographed the night life and the violence, the working class and the upper class. In those days I traveled all around the city at any time of night or day, and except for rare instances I seldom felt in danger. The city was my home. As I look back at the work that I did during that period I realize that I was witness to a time that no longer exists, a more innocent time.
While I know that the city has changed, that the streets are dirtier and meaner, the energy that I love is still there. No matter where I go, I keep coming back to photograph New York. Of course the "good old days" were not all sweetness and light. There was poverty, racism, corruption, and violence in those days, too, but somehow we believed in the possible. We believed in hope.