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Ben M. Rabinovitch

Time Period: 
1905-1940
Location: 
142 W. 57th, 40 W. 56th St., NYC
Biography: 

(1884-1964)

Ben Magid Rabinovitch was a photographer, gallery owner, and founder of the Studio Gallery Photography School, later the Rabinovitch Photography Workshop. Born in the Ukraine, his family brought him to New York in 1887. Prior to the First World War he worked as an accountant. He served in the American Army during the conflict and upon his return, took up photography.

Rabinovitch experimented with various photographic media, including bromoil prints, but became an adamant opponent of "mixed" and "controlled" photography. In 1920 he opened "The Studio School of Art Photography" at his studio and gallery, billed as "a small personal school . . . for those who see differently." The school was one of the three important New York photographic academies during the interwar years, and continued to be an important presence with a definable style until the mid 1950s. He also wrote a brief instructional monograph, How To Learn Photography, that remained in print during his lifetime.

An active participant in national photographic salons, Rabinovitch was institutionally affiliated with various groups of pictorial photographers. The most important one-man exhibitions of his work took place in 1922 at Bookery Gallery, the 1934 "Theatrical Portraits" at the Studio Gallery, and 1945's "40 year retrospective," once again at the Studio Gallery. The last produced a perceptive catalogue written by Joseph Isaacson. From 1932-1955 the Studio Gallery became one of the most active venues for the exhibition of photography in New York City, managing three one-person shows a season as well as annual student exhibitions.

Rabinovitch ordered that his negatives be destroyed at the time of his death. The International Center for Photography in New York City holds substantial numbers of Rabinovitch's prints.

NOTES: "Portraits in Photography," NY Times (Aug 23, 1922), 10. "Slavic Strength Castilian Charm," Outlook(Sep 6, 1922), 132. NY Times (Mar 16, 1926), X:10. David S. Shields/ALS

Specialty: 

Signing his work with his last name, this portraitist and still-life photographer became a force in New York artist circles as a pedagogue and photographic taste-maker. In his earliest work, pre-1927, Rabinovitch cultivated a pictorialist density and richness of texture, yet he possessed an aesthetic clarity of line and an instinct for the integral disposition of various pictorial elements. Rabinovitch was particularly adamant in his determination not to retouch "anything above the shoulders" in a portrait at a time when wrinkle erasers and "eye doctors" dominated the dark rooms; yet he would manipulate everything in other portions of the pictorial field for expressive purposes. He did theatrical work, but his interest in human appearance was broad and he would approach interesting looking people on the street in order to portray them. In the later 1920s, he became increasingly interested in objective modernism and the sharp edge/clear focus aesthetic emerging in art photography. Yet this clarity was added to what was primarily an experimental outlook to the medium. Like Man Ray, he would solarize, or abstract pictorial elements. His still lifes from the 1930s have a spare monumental simplicity admired by lovers of modernist abstraction.