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Remembering Simpson Kalisher Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

26 July 2023

Simpson Kalisher, who turned from commercial photography to photojournalism, died at home on June 13 in Delray Beach, Fla. He was 96.

Raised in the Bronx, his parents were immigrants from Poland. His father Ben was a jeweler and watchmaker while his mother Sheva was a dressmaker.

He graduated from Christopher Columbus High School before attending Indiana University in Bloomington. He studied there for a year before being drafted, serving in the Army from 1944 to 1946 where he was decorated with the Combat Infantryman's Badge. He received a bachelor's degree at Queens College, majoring in history, after his stint in the Army.

After graduation he returned to photography, something he had picked up at the age of 10, selling his first photos as a teen. He freelanced for Scope Associates where he shot a photo in the Kalispell are of two women chatting at their gate. The image was chose by Edward Steichen for his exhibit The Family of Man.

'Photography is difficult only because it is so easy,' he once lamented.

He used 35mm cameras from Canon and Contax to shoot assignments for trade magazines. His work appeared in Chevrolet's Friends, the American Iron and Steel Institute's Steelways, Popular Photography, American Youth, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, Interiors, Television/Radio Age, Coronet, Musical America and Business Week. He also photographed for annual reports and book publications including Clinical Sociology and for a new 1955 edition of Charles Darwin's The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.

In 1957 he joined Garry Winogrand for meetings of an informal group of independent photographers that included Lee Friedlander, David Vestal, Saul Leiter, Walt Silver and Harold Feinstein. They discussed social documentary photography, the 'snapshot' aesthetic and a more casual approach to photography.

At the time, Kalisher commented that the photojournalism of the age "only served as illustrations for the captions which actually told the story." He would be after something else, parodying these pictorial stereotypes, as art historian Ian Jeffrey put it.

Kalisher's photojournalism was distinguished by his empathy for the common man on the street and his imagination is portraying his plight.

In the foreword of his 2011 book The Alienated Photographer Lucy Sante described Kalisher as "our Virgil through this rapidly receding time, giving the impression in every frame of remembering a stricter but richer past while also perceiving the outline and maybe even the details of the anarchic future" through images that "seem to represent the culmination of a thousand thoughts that were in the air."

Among his books are Railroad Men: A Book of Photographs and Collected Stories (1961) and Propaganda and Other Photographs (1976) with a foreword by Russell Baker.

"Photography is difficult only because it is so easy," he once lamented.

He is survived by a daughter Amy and two sons, David and Allon, all three by his marriage to Colby Harris, which ended in divorce, and five grandchildren. His eldest son, Jesse Kalisher, also a photographer, from his marriage to Ilse Kahn, which also ended in divorce, died in 2017. Gloria Richards, his partner of 27 years, died in 2021.

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