"I first met Fred when we were both refugees fighting the totalitarian Nazi regime through the rather poor means we had. In his time he was very much in the avantgarde, a brilliant photographer inspired by his quest for justice and his concern for truth so clearly reflected in his photographs. He truly was a man of vision, and his choice of people and subjects is the obvious proof of it."
Willy Brandt, Chancellor Federal Republic of Germany, 1983
Fred Stein 1909 - 1967
Fred Stein was born on July 3, 1909 in Dresden, Germany; his father a rabbi, his mother a religion teacher. He was a brilliant student and became active in socialist and anti-Nazi movements as a teenager. He went to Leipzig University, inspired by socialism's moral imperative, and obtained a law degree in an impressively short time, but was denied admission to the German bar by the Nazi government for "racial and political reasons." The threat of Fascism proved more and more dangerous and Stein fled to Paris in 1933 with his new wife, Liselotte Salzburg, under the pretext of taking a honeymoon.
In Paris they were in the center of a circle of expatriate socialists, thinkers, and artists. In this fertile milieu Stein began taking photographs professionally. He was a pioneer of the small, hand-held camera, and with the Leica which he and his wife had purchased as a joint wedding present, he went into the streets to photograph scenes of life in Paris. Among his early pictures were portraits of friends such as Hannah Arendt, Willy Brandt, Arthur Koestler and Andre Malraux (all of whom he photographed over a period of 30 years).
When Germany declared war on France in 1939, Stein was put in an internment camp for enemy aliens near Paris. He managed to escape, and after a hazardous clandestine journey through the countryside, met his wife and baby girl in Marseilles, where they obtained visas through the efforts of the Emergency Rescue Committee. On May 7,1941, the three boarded the S.S. Winnipeg, one of the last boats to leave France. They carried the Leica and some negatives among their few belongings.
In New York, Stein continued his photography while his wife worked to support them. He read extensively and made acquaintances with writers, artists, scientists, politicians, and philosophers. He was an astute social observer, walking through the streets of New York, documenting life from Fifth Avenue to Harlem. He worked unobtrusively and quickly, presenting his subject as sole content, never as interesting or incidental material for photographic interpretation. He preferred natural or minimal lighting, and avoided elaborate setups as well as dramatic effects. He did not retouch or manipulate the negative. Stein was a member of the Photo League until he became disenchanted with their pro-Communist sympathies. Though portraits were his main income generating work and he photographed many people on commission, he generally worked without assignment, prizing the freedom of shooting people and scenes that interested him. He would then offer his work to publishers and photo editors of magazines, newspapers, and books.
Stein died in 1967 at the age of 58. His portraits and reportage had appeared in newspapers, magazines, and books throughout the world. He had also lectured and had held a number of one-man exhibitions. Seven books of his work have been published. During his lifetime his work received favorable critical attention, and the scope and power of his work are now gaining wide recognition.