Jacob Riis was a pioneering newspaper reporter and social reformer in New York at the turn of the 20th century. His then-novel idea of using photographs of the city’s slums to illustrate the plight of impoverished residents established Riis as forerunner of modern photojournalism.
Born in Denmark in 1849, Riis came to New York City in 1870 and for several years experienced poverty firsthand. Hired as a police reporter in 1877 for the New York Tribune, he wrote about crime, disaster, and misfortune in the tenements, until 1884, when he turned his attention to housing reform. With the publication of the bestselling How the Other Half Lives, Riis became a national spokesman for the immigrant poor of American cities. He deftly entertained and educated his audience with stories and images advocating for advances in housing, education, immigration policy and public health until his death in 1914.
‘Revealing New York’s Other Half’ features over 125 objects including Riis’ personal papers, his many books, selections from his newspaper and magazine writing, handwritten manuscripts, and photography equipment, along with photographs taken and collected by Riis himself.
In addition, 50 Riis photographic images will be on display, including vintage photographic prints, lantern slides, glass negatives, stereographs and more. Significant items on display include correspondence with Riis’ close friend Theodore Roosevelt on White House stationery, fundraising correspondence with Louise and Andrew Carnegie, and a Riis letter to humanitarian and author Lillian Wald.
This is the first major retrospective of Riis’s photographic work in the U.S. since the City Museum’s seminal 1947 exhibition, The Battle with the Slum, and for the first time unites his photographs and his archive, which belongs to the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library.