NEWCOMERS / Related Work

NEWCOMERS : Eva Konikoff and Sandra Weiner Document Early Life

Eva Konikoff and Sandra Weiner may very well have been kindred spirits.  They both took up photography at a young age. Both of them were first generation immigrants to the United States, Sandra from Poland and Eva from Finland. They both joined the Photo League of New York in the 1940s, during what was a tumultuous period in history. The League offered an outlet for members who were politically liberal and believed in the transformative power of photography, and also to those interested in exploring the aesthetic and technical aspects of the photographic milieu. Konikoff and Weiner while socially responsible, seemed more in tune with the latter. Both photographers took a keen interest in the locality of their situations and aimed their lenses at the day to day of their neighborhoods, or places they would happen upon.  This often took the form of the apparent abundance of street life played out by the littlest human inhabitants of the city – children.

The world of kids seemed to have enamored both women. This may have been availability of subject matter, and perhaps a willingness of children to be photographed. Or it may have been a deeper, more visceral connection to feelings of being newcomers in a world unknown, one that was being newly discovered. The young subjects in their photographs sincerely conveyed this – emoting their feelings from elation to solemnness as their small dramas played out, serious as any in the adult world. And for Konikoff and Weiner, photography was their outlet – through the mise en scène of their relatable little friends – it was their way of freely expressing themselves and their vulnerabilities in an unfamiliar place.

Despite the recognizable talent of Eva Konikoff and Sandra Weiner, both are much less-known than male counterparts from the Photo League.  Even though at the League, women held a number of office and officer positions, and accounted for about thirty percent of all members – outside, they were often overshadowed by men, who were more likely to be hired in the printed media, photography business, teaching, and advertising worlds of New York at the time. Also, for Weiner, it was her commitment to her husband’s legacy (Dan Weiner died tragically at 39 in a plane crash), and her need to continue to find work after his death, freelancing, eventually becoming a picture editor.  And for Konikoff, it was a creative block that added to her rather brief but impressive career behind the lens.  It is our hope that this exhibition spotlights these two remarkable artists, their resilience, and these distinctive documents of a time and place.

Related Work: Dan Weiner Photographs / Pop Wiener Paintings

There have always been a few serious, gifted hands working in photography, since its beginnings.  Dan Weiner was one of them.  His qualities were: an amazing competence; faithfulness to himself; solidity of heart in his work; and a sound, professionally dependable talent that gave off a steady glow.  The glow came from the humanity of the man, maintained in the teeth of the usual strain and inroads in the lives of idealistic workers in any difficult field.      -Walker Evans.  March 2, 1959 (Print, vol. XIII: 2, March/April, 1959)

Dan Weiner (b. 1919) had affinity for art and came to photography had an young age. He was introduced to the medium after receiving a camera as a gift from his uncle when he was just fifteen. He decided to pursue painting while at Art Students League of New York and Pratt Institute, and at the urging of his father to do something more practical, returned to the camera and joined the Photo League in 1940.

It was at the League where Weiner first crossed paths with Sid Grossman, a more experienced teacher and mentor. Guided by Grossman Weiner practiced a humanist approach to photography – with various forays to New York’s neighborhoods as well as his travels to the dustbowl, and with his attraction to social justice issues and photographic journalism.

Weiner became heavily involved at the Photo League and met his wife, also a photographer, Sandra there. In 1942 he was called away to serve during World War II, drafted into the Air Force and served until 1946. Upon Weiner’s return to the city, he opened a studio and supported himself as a commercial photographer until 1949. He then decided to shift his focus to photo journalism, perhaps wanting to find a more meaningful practice. “It was much later and after much experience that I discovered that continued survival as a creative person against the crushing pressures, both personal and social – to be reasonable, to be practical, to belong – took more than just talent. It took belief and dedication and necessity to continuously thread one’s way through all the pitfalls in society that is against the reliable and steady.” Wiener seemed to have found his voice photographing for various publications including Harper’s Bazaar, Fortune Magazine, and Collier’s. The latter publishing his very early major essay about the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

His first book South Africa in Transition was published in 1956 . It was about this time that Dan’s mother passed away and his father, newly retired from his working life, had become rather depressed. As a way to help him cope, his brother and he bought a set of watercolor paints and encouraged their father to give it a go at art.  Quite tragically, Dan Weiner died at age thirty-nine in a plane crash while on assignment in Kentucky.

The “naïve painter”, Pop (Isidor) Wiener (born 1886), father to Dan Weiner and father-in-law to Sandra Weiner, found himself in a multi-generationally creative family. When Dan was young, he expressed a deep interest in becoming a painter. Pop being a working-class Russian immigrant rejected the idea of Dan becoming a painter. Shortly after Pop turned sixty-five and retired, Dan and his brother, Sam, gifted him a set of watercolor paints to occupy his time and cope with the grief of losing his beloved wife, Dora, who died in 1950. Dan was so impressed with Pop’s resilience and commitment to painting that he encouraged him to work in oils on canvas. Pop’s paintings drew influence from his early life in Durleshty, Russia as well as being inspired by Rumanian folk art and carpets. At times his tableaus reflect the news of the day, or biblical events, or were even based on photographs Dan took in his travels while on assignments as a photojournalist. Pop faced much loss for periods of his life with the death of his middle son, Maxwell, dying from a car accident in 1917, his wife Dora dying in 1950, and Dan’s death in 1959. Pop, with a vital and childlike spirit, created over two hundred paintings in the span of his artistic career. After hearing of Grandma Moses, he reidentified himself as “Grand Pa” Wiener. His body of work and legacy through his family have a lasting impact on the history of photography and folk art alike.