Directory of Documentary Photographers

1969 - Self Portrait, Mirror Image

Lou Bernstein was known as “The photographer’s photographer”, among the prominent great photographers of his generation. During the 1950’s through the 1980’s, Bernstein’s personal views, articulations on the aesthetics of photography, established him as a much sought after lecturer, critic, and teacher. He conducted numerous private individual and public group photographic workshops, as well as becoming a college educator. Bernstein taught at The Phoenix School of Design, NY, and at the request of W. Eugene Smith, took over Smith’s classes at Cooper Union, when Smith went to Japan for Life Magazine.

Bernstein received his first camera in 1936. Photography was Lou’s hobby early on. But his passion for photography only intensified. He sought out the shakers and movers of photography in New York. Within a few years, Lou and his photography was featured frequently in newspapers, magazines, books, television, galleries and museum exhibitions, in New York City. We all heard the metaphor “don’t quit your day job”. Lou never did, he did not want to be a professional photo journalist, although he could have. Lou wanted to photograph what he felt was honest, sensitive and important photographs. He also wanted to be where the activity of the photographic world was, that was in New York, and Peerless Camera Stores, NY, the largest professional photographers supply store in the world. This job enabled him to be at a center of photography, where his friends and fellow contemporaries met, without notice, legendary photographers like, Sid Grossman, W. Eugene Smith, Wynn Bullock, Lisette Model, Cornell Capa, Edward Steichen, and Jack Deschin, Sunday Photography Editor, for the New York Times, to name a few. It allowed him weekends and nights off, to teach, lecturer, photograph, develop, print and exhibit his photography, and time to be totally committed to his love of photography.

"He was never too interested in promoting his own work, all he wanted to do, was photograph, teach, lecturer and help guide his students and all people who loved photography as an art, that came to him for assistance, to understand his aesthetics and philosophy. He always gave back to the photographic community, He was there for the more than 600 amateur and professionals during his lifetime, who called upon him for direction and explanation of his views on photography as art." Irwin Bernstein

1992- Cornell Capa & Lou Bernstein, ICP,NY, Opening Reception for Lou's second
ICP, One Man Exhibition, "Five Decades of Photography"

Lou was a charter member of the controversial “Photo League”, and was active in the organization from 1936-1951, until its demise. Lou was an advocate of its principals on photography, and continued to be a close friend to Sid Grossman, and many of its legendary members.

His many achievements during his career was due to his high profile celebrity and reputation recognized in the early years of career by the, New York Times, Photography Critic, Jack Deschin, who published him frequently. What followed was, Edward Steichen's selection of Lou's work for both, The Family of Man, in 1955, followed by Steichen's acquisition of 10 photographs for the permanent collection of MoMA.

Lou was the originator and author of a highly successful bi-monthly article, titled “Critique”, for Camera 35 Magazine, that was published from 1968-1972.

In April 1972, Lou was a participating critic along with many other recognized dignitaries & educators of photography, representing The Society for Photographic Education, New York Region, and asked to contribute to Critique 72, at The New School for Social Research, in New York.

Bernstein’s photography has been exhibited, and acclaimed at more than sixty museums worldwide. In his six and a half decade career, he had achieved 187 lifetime events exhibiting his work.

Text and images submitted by The Estate of Lou Bernstein Lou Bernstein Legacy

Hydrant Series #4, 1947



Lou Bernstein Legacy


Jazz-Stuyvesant Casino,NY, 1952



Father and Baby, Coney Island: Artnet

Jazz Study: Artnet

Fire Hydrant: Artnet


Man & Wife, 1941


Articles about Lou Bernstein

In Memoriam - Lou Bernstein by S. Zimbel

D'Orazio.. New York photographer learned from his mentor, Lou Bernstein: Salon


Thomas Kinksey, 1965


Student Resoures

Friends of Aesthetic Realism - Countering the Lies : Hattersley letter

The Society for Photographic Education

The Family of Man: MoMA

Aesthetic Realism: We Have Been There by Ralph Hattersley

Aesthetic Realism: Wikipedia

Aesthetic Realism Looks at New York City

The New York Photo League

The New York Photo League by Martin Elkort

The Photo League: Spartacus

Westport Photographer Larry Silver


Reading Braille, 1968



1949: Milan Photographic, Milan, Italy,

1955: The Museum of Modern Art “The Family of Man” (Exhibited on six continents)

1957: USIA - Kongrass Halle, Germany

1967: Expo ’67, Canada, Montreal, Canada

1968: Photo-kina, Cologne, Germany

1978: National Gallery of Canada-The Photographic Crossroads-3 Year Travel Show.

1981: The International Center of Photography, NY, A Retrospective Look, .

1986: Gallery Association of NYS, 3 Year Traveling Exhibit ”The Photo League”.

1989: The Queens Museum, Coney Island 1943-1987.

1992: The International Center of Photography, NY, “Five Decades of Photography”.

200l: The Jewish Museum, NY, New York Capital of New York.

2003: The Columbus Museum of Art, ”This Was The Photo League”.

2003: The Museum of Lifestyle & Fashion History, “The Negro Baptismal”, Florida.

2004: The HARID Conservatory, “Life is a Dance”, Boca Raton, Florida


Major Collections

Museum of Modern Art, NY,

Museum Chateau de Cleavaux, Lux,

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.TX.

Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, AZ.

Spencer Museum of Art, Lawrence, KS,

The International Center of Photography, NY,

Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH.

The Jewish Museum of Art, NY.


New York: Capital of Photography

Harlem Crossroads: Black Writers and the Photograph in the Twentieth Century

The Art of Interruption

Forum Debates

The Photo Forum

Royal Photographic Society

Freepedia Forum


Bohemians, 1954