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6 December 2014
Looking over Arthur Leipzig's black and white images of children playing in the street in 1940s New York City, you can't help wonder how we got to the age of helicopter parenting. In fact, he described himself as a "witness to a time that no longer exists, a more innocent time."
Leipzig died this Friday at his home in Sea Cliff, N.Y. at the age of 96.
He turned to photography after injuring his right hand in an industrial accident in 1941. But he didn't hope to become a photographer. His ambition was to be a darkroom assistant.
He was a fly on the wall, even disguising his camera in a dog carrier box he built himself.
Tuition at the Photo League in Manhattan, where he took courses, was $6 and he had a $3 scholarship. Sid Grossman, one of his professors, set his sights higher, sending him to the Museum of Modern Art several times until something stuck. What stuck was a sense of composition to go with his more accomplished technique.
But that sense of composition wasn't applied to still life. It was challenged by the whirl of street life.
Into the mid-1960s, Leipzig continued to shoot images of children at play. At a construction site, with discarded boards for rifles, on a street chalked with sailboats and flags, playing tag and stickball. A selection of those images was published in Next Stop New York.
But he didn't just shoot children at play.
For four years he was a staff photographer for PM, a New York evening newspaper, then worked for Heart's International News Photos before embarking on a career as a freelance photojournalist.
While his black and white work is what he's known for, in the mid-1950s he shot mostly in color because that's what the magazines wanted.
His Web site includes four pages of images covering his entire career. But none of them are posed. He was a fly on the wall, even disguising his camera in a dog carrier box he built himself.
In 1968 he became an art professor at C.W. Post College of Long Island University, where he taught until 1991. In 2004, he was honored with the Lucie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Fine Art Photography.
Through his images, we can still revisit that "more innocent time," when to be a child was to imagine the world and to be an adult was to appreciate that.