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March 13: Joe Schwartz, Folk Photographer

March 12, 2015

Emotions, So Much the Same smallJoe Schwartz, a largely undiscovered “folk” photographer and lithographer who captured moments in the lives of poor and working people, and especially moments of interracial neighborliness (at left, kids watching a marionette show in Brooklyn), died at 99 in Atascadero, California on this date in 2013. Schwartz was active in New York’s radical Photo League (1936-51), which was investigated and repressed by the U.S. Attorney General. He was a Marine Corps combat photographer during World War II, serving in the Pacific, including on Iwo Jima. He was also a prominent photographer of black jazz musicians and of little-documented black urban neighborhoods. Schwartz moved his camera to Los Angeles during the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. His book, Folk Photography — Poems I’ve Never Written, with 150 photographs and lithographs from all phases of his career, was published in 2000. The Smithsonian Institute’s Museum of African American History and Culture being constructed on the Washington Mall will have a collection of Schwartz’s photos.

Sullivan Midgets smallBillie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, and Louis Armstrong

“I not only related to have-nots, I identified with them. I didn’t get any money for this stuff. It became a tool instead.” —Joe Schwartz