Heckscher Museum of Art
Huntington, Long Island, NY
Coney Island to Caumsett: The Photographic Journey of N. Jay Jaffee, 1947-1997
September 4, 1999 through November 14, 1999
From the teeming streets of Brooklyn to Long Island's lush landscapes, N. Jay Jaffee's camera captured sights familiar to many Long Islanders. For a half-century, he recorded in photographs a journey which parallels many a person's city-to-suburb progression.
Just out of the army in 1947, Jaffee (1921-1998) began to photograph the Brooklyn neighborhoods of his youth -- East New York, Brownsville, Canarsie Bay, Coney Island and Brighton Beach. Manhattan, with its allure of culture and its magnetically-powerful concrete landscapes, also served as subject for Jaffee's camera. For more than three decades it was Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan which provided the raw material of Jaffee's photography as he captured the movement and shadows of city streets, subways, markets, the people who inhabited them, and the street signs which revealed the concerns of the people and merchants of the city.
Then in 1985, Jaffee moved to Lloyd Harbor. The focus of his work shifted too; the city streets of his youth now replaced by the sensuous landscapes of Long Island's North Shore. Jaffee's home in Caumsett, on the windswept tip of Lloyd Harbor, served as a base for photographic journeys through the neighborhoods of suburbia This later, nature-based work of the late-80s and 90s focuses on the land and the water as he produced lyrical images of the sky and woods which surrounded him.
According to Jaffee, "photographs are born of the positives and negatives accumulated in a lifetime." Indeed, few bodies of work are more biographical than is Jaffee's. For more than half a century, the camera was the instrument through which he interpreted his world and his place in it.
Jaffee was born in Brownsville; his mother was a Polish Jew, his father had emigrated from Russia His first language was Yiddish. Like many of the residents of the poor, immigrant community of Brownsville, his early life was marked with hardships (an older brother was killed in an industrial accident) and the chronic illnesses of his parents. By the age of 15, Jaffee was on his own. He supported himself as a typesetter and was an active union member, an association which contributed to his commitment to progressive politics and his sympathies for the working man. Following his service in World War II, these sensibilities which informed his work were further nurtured by his membership in the Photo League, an organization at its most influential during the 30s and 40s and which was dedicated to socially-concerned photography. The Photo League, with its roster of teachers, students and guest lecturers which included virtually every renowned photographer of the era, served as Jaffee's cultural, aesthetic and professional training ground.
Images from top to bottom: Kishke King, Brownsville, Brooklyn, 1953; Two Men in Subway, New York City, 1952; Spiritis of the Woods and Ponds #1, Upper Lloyd Harbor Pond, 1997
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