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3 September 2014
Lida Moser, who died last month at the age of 93, didn't like to be pinned down. She shot for Vogue but she also shot in the streets of Harlem.
In a 2004 letter clarifying a couple of points about a profile of her in the Washington City Paper, she wrote:
I don't like being pigeonholed into photojournalism. I went way past that and, as mentioned in the body of your piece, I also did portraits, theater publicity, travel stories, photoillustration, architecture, still lifes, special effects and more. I even wrote a book about special-effects techniques. When I became a photographer, I was determined to use photography as a magic key into as many aspects of life as I possibly could -- and that I would not limit myself to one category.
Her other complaint (about the sexism of being called the grandmother of photojournalism) strikes us as valid, too. As she put it, you don't read about Ansel Adams being called the grandfather of anything.
But don't pin her down as a photographer, either. She also wrote. In the 1970s and 1980s she wrote the Camera View column for the New York Times and published several books.
Those titles still seem timely, in fact. Photography Contests: How to Enter, How to Win from 1981, Grants in Photography: How to Get Them from 1979 and Fun in Photography from 1974 cover subjects that are no less intriguing today.
In her N.Y. Times obituary, Daniel Slotnik reports, "Her topics [in the Camera View column] ranged from maintenance tips ("Do not lend your camera to anyone" was rule No. 2) to how to solicit grants and win photography contests."
Born in 1920 in Manhattan as the daughter of Jewish immigrants from Russia, she became an assistant to the photographer Berenice Abbott in 1947. There she was inspired by Abbott's collection of images by Eugene Atget, documenting life in Paris.
A few years later Vogue assigned her to travel across Canada (a project that ended up being about Montreal) and assignments form Harper's Bazaar, Look and Esquire followed.
She was a member of both the Photo League, a New York cooperative of photographers interested in both social and creative issues, and the New York School, an informal group of artists from various disciplines.
Her career spanned over 60 years and is in the collections of many museums, including the Smithsonian, which purchased over 200 of her New York prints. Canadian television filmed a documentary on her life only a few years ago.
She continued photographing into her 90s.
In a particularly personal and colorful homage to her, F. Lennox Campello concluded:
This hurricane of a woman lived a fruitful life and has left a magnificent artistic footprint on the history of American photography. She will be missed, and we are saddened by her departure, but happy to know that Moser's enormous legacy will live forever.
Starting, perhaps, with a retrospective of her Quebec work to be held early next year at the Fine Arts Museum of Quebec.