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Guide to Sam Reiss 1975 Retrospective Exhibit PHOTOS 021 002

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
10th Floor
New York, NY 10012
(212) 998-2630
tamiment.wagner@nyu.edu


Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Collection processed by Erika Gottfried

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on September 06, 2018 using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Reiss, Sam
Source - dnr: Reiss, Helen
Title: Sam Reiss 1975 Retrospective Exhibit
Dates [inclusive]: 1948-1975
Abstract: Samuel Reiss was among the most prominent and prolific photographers of the labor movement in New York City from the late 1940s until his death in 1975. During the three decades that Reiss earned a living with his camera, he documented a changing work force in a changing city, building a reputation as "Labor's photographer." Week by week, throughout his career, Reiss made photographs that documented New York's labor movement during its most active, influential, and progressive years. The materials in the collection document and include images from a 1975 retrospective exhibit of Reiss' work. These include press releases, promotional materials, and correspondence relating to the exhibit, 140 numbered slides that comprised the slideshow displayed as part of the exhibit, 138 of the 140 black and white captioned prints (mostly 8 x 10) on 11" x 14" cardboard mounts that were photographed to create the matching slides, and a small number of additional mounted prints that were not included in the slideshow.
Quantity: 4 Linear Feet in one manuscript box and 7 oversize boxes.
Language: Materials are in English
Call Phrase: PHOTOS 021 002

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Historical/Biographical Note

Samuel Reiss was among the most prominent and prolific photographers of the labor movement in New York City from the late 1940s until his death in 1975. During the three decades that Reiss earned a living with his camera, he documented a changing work force in a changing city, building a reputation as "Labor's photographer." Week by week, throughout his career, Reiss made photographs that document New York's labor movement during its most active, influential, and progressive years.

Born in New York City in 1910, Reiss was the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants. He grew up in the city, where his father worked as a tailor. Like many children of New Yorkers who worked in the garment industry, Reiss hoped to escape having to make a living in an economic sector beleaguered by difficult working conditions and low pay. After graduating from Manhattan's Stuyvesant High School in 1929, Reiss enrolled at New York University as a pre-dental major, intending to join the ranks of professionals by becoming a dentist. At the University he attended only night classes to allow him to work a garment-industry job during the day. By January of 1933, after four years, Reiss had managed to accrue two years of college credits. It was then that his father suffered a stroke that left him disabled; Reiss dropped out of school to help support his family and found full-time employment as a shipping clerk at a clothing factory in the men's garment district.

In 1936, Reiss enrolled in evening photography classes at the Brooklyn Museum's Art School, where he remembered that his first instructor was Tom O'Scheckel, a pictorialist photographer who had served as president of the Pictorial Photographers of America. Using a simple wooden box camera, Reiss began photographing during his lunch hour; he photographed co-workers as well as other laborers on the streets of New York City. In 1938 he wed Helen Handwerger; two daughters, Jessie and Harriet, were born to them.

During World War II, Reiss found work as a machinist, but when his shop struck in 1946, he used the enforced hiatus to take the opportunity to attempt to earn his living with photography. He started by shooting baby pictures, weddings, and bar mitvah celebrations, but did not meet with success until he started to specialize as a press photographer for labor union publications. He received his first labor news assignment in 1947, when he was hired to shoot some photographs for the RWDSU Record,the newspaper of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Workers Union. Throughout his nearly thirty-year career, the RWDSU, as well as the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, the Transport Workers Union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union remained among Reiss' major clients, employing him regularly to document the activities of their organizations, although he also shot for dozens of other labor unions and locals.

In addition to his labor union and other organizational clients, Reiss continued to do private commercial photography. However, it is worth noting that the subjects of many of these photographs were labor figures and their families; Reiss was frequently a union official's choice of photographer for photographing personal family events such as weddings and birthdays, or children's portraits.

Reiss continued to photograph for labor unions until only a few months before his death from cancer on December 27, 1975. Earlier that month the Metropolitan Labor Press Council and District Council 37, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) hosted a retrospective exhibit of his photographs (the idea for the exhibit originated with Reiss' older daughter, Jessie)--titled, "Sam Reiss--An Eyewitness to Labor History, 1948-1975," at District 37's lobby gallery at its offices in New York City that opened on December 5, 1975. The exhibit was funded by many of the unions for whom Reiss had photographed, as well as a number of individuals, and its honorary chairman was AFL-CIO president George Meany. Jessie Reiss coordinated and helped to curate the exhibit. Although he was gravely ill, Reiss provided research for the exhibit and selected photographs for the exhibit. He chose photographs on the basis of what he considered their historical importance as well for their aesthetic qualities.

The exhibit consisted of two parts: Forty dry-mounted black and white borderless photomurals ranging in size from 16" x 20" to 40" x 60" were hung on the walls, and a viewer-activated slideshow of 140 black and white images that included 138 additional photographs (including duplicates of 18 of the photomurals) and two title cards.

The exhibit previewed in a special reception given on December 5, 1975 attended by Sam Reiss, his family, and numerous labor union leaders; it opened officially on December 8, 1975 and remained on display through February 6, 1976. Immediately following, the exhibit was installed at the international headquarters of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees in Washington, DC, and remained on display through April that year. A final installation took place at the Spring Arts Festival of Local 3, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers from May 16-25, 1976. In 1997, the Tamiment Library mounted an online version of the exhibit (128 of the images that appeared in the original exhibit) on its webpage, where it is still displayed.

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Scope and Content Note

The materials in the collection document and include images from a 1975 retrospective exhibit of Reiss' work. These include press releases, promotional materials, and correspondence relating to the exhibit, 140 numbered slides that comprised the slideshow displayed as part of the exhibit, 138 of the 140 black and white captioned prints (mostly 8 x 10) on 11" x 14" cardboard mounts that were photographed to create the matching slides, and a small number of additional mounted prints that were not included in the slideshow.

The slideshow (and its matching set of numbered prints) seems to have been arranged loosely by organizations (mainly labor unions) and subject themes. For example, slide numbers 3 through 11 pertain to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union and seem to have been shot for its publications; slide numbers 12 through 15 to the New York City laundry workers' union, slide numbers 16 through 23 to the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, slide numbers 26 through 29 to the Textile Workers Union, slide numbers 30 through 34 to the AFL-CIO and New York State AFL-CIO, slide numbers 41-43 to the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union, slide numbers 56-59 to the United Farm Workers, slide numbers 60–69 to the United Federation of Teachers and American Federation of Teachers, slide numbers 71 and 72 to Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, slide numbers 79-81 to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, slide numbers 93-100 to the United Housing Federation, slide numbers 101–105 to the New York City local of the Ironworkers' Union, slide numbers 106-111 to the Taxi Drivers Organizing Committee, and slide numbers 133-122 to the Transport Workers Union. The civil rights movement (slide numbers 44–55, and 124, 125), and events and demonstrations pertaining to anti-semitism and Israel (slide numbers 130-138) are also represented. Prominent political activists, labor union and political leaders pictured include Dr. Martin Luther King, Coretta Scott King, Pete Seeger, Cesar Chavez, Moshe Dayan, Harry Truman, Pantanow U Thant, United States Presidents Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Norman Thomas, A. Philip Randolph, Nelson Rockefeller, and Bella Abzug. Historic events represented include the Ocean Hill-Brownsville New York City school decentralization crisis, the Poor People's March, the 1968 strike by Memphis sanitation men (with their "I Am A Man" slogan displayed), and George Meany and Walter Reuther jointly banging the gavel at the AFL-CIO merger convention in 1955.

Also included in the slideshow are slides of 18 of the 40 photomurals that hung in the original exhibit, but the prints series in the collection does not include matching prints for these. A printed list of captions and dates for images for the entire slideshow accompanies the slides themselves.

Arrangement

The materials are grouped into three series. The slideshow and print series are arranged in numerical order; the exhibit press releases, etc., series is not arranged in any order.

Series I: Exhibit Press Releases, Reviews, Promotional Materials, Invitations, and Correspondence, 1975-1976 Series II: Slideshow, 1948-1975 Series III: Photographic Prints, 1948-1975

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Access Points

Subject Names

  • King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968
  • Seeger, Pete, 1919-2014
  • Chavez, Cesar, 1927-1993
  • Dayan, Moshe, 1915-1981
  • Truman, Harry S., 1884-1972.
  • U Thant, Pantanow
  • Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
  • Abzug, Bella S., 1920-1998
  • Meany, George, 1894-1980.
  • Reuther, Walter, 1908-1970.
  • Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962.
  • Thomas, Norman, 1884-1968
  • Randolph, A. Philip (Asa Philip), 1889-1979
  • Rockefeller, Nelson A. (Nelson Aldrich), 1908-1979
  • King, Coretta Scott, 1927-2006.
  • Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973
  • Reiss, Helen

Document Type

  • Black-and-white photographs.
  • Slides (photographs)

Subject Organizations

  • United Housing Foundation (New York, N.Y.)
  • International Association of Bridge, Structural and Ornamental Iron Workers
  • Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America
  • Textile Workers Union of America
  • New York City Taxi Drivers Union, Local 3036
  • Transport Workers Union of America. Local 100
  • Taxi Drivers Organizing Commitee
  • International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Local 3 (New York, N.Y.)
  • American Federation of Teachers
  • United Federation of Teachers
  • International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
  • American Federation of Musicians. Local 802
  • New York State AFL-CIO
  • AFL-CIO
  • United Farm Workers of America
  • Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union

Subject Topics

  • Ocean Hill-Brownsville Demonstration School District (New York, N.Y.)
  • Antisemitism -- Soviet Union -x Foreign public opinion, American.
  • Arab-Israeli conflict -- Foreign public opinion, American.
  • Civil rights movements -- United States.

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Administrative Information

Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Use Restrictions

Any rights (including copyright and related rights to publicity and privacy) held by Sam Reiss were transferred to New York University in 2002 by Helen Reiss. Permission to publish or reproduce materials in this collection must be secured from Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Please contact tamiment.wagner@nyu.edu.

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date; Sam Reiss 1975 Retrospective Exhibit; PHOTOS 021.002; box number; folder number; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.

Related Archival Materials

Sam Reiss Negatives (PHOTOS 021)

Sam Reiss Photographs (PHOTOS 021.1)

Sam Reiss: An Eyewitness to Labor History, 1948-1975 (online exhibit)

Sam Reiss Papers (WAG 262)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Helen Reiss in 1980 and 1988. The accession number associated with this gift is 1980.005.

Bibliography

Bildersee, Barnett. "The Camera Eye: Snapping the man in the street."New York STAR Picture News, Sunday, September 12, 1948, p. 14.

Course completion (for Commercial Photography-1/24/1947, and Portraiture-June 13, 1947) certificates from Brooklyn Museum Art School, for Sam Reiss, Sam Reiss Papers, Wagner 301.

Going Out Guide…Labor Log. New York Times, Tuesday, December 16, 1975.

Interview with Jessie Reiss by Erika Gottfried, June 19, 2002

Klein, H.L. "Focus on 27 years of labor history: LI'ers photos on display."Long Island Press , Sunday, December 7, 1975.

Labor Press Photographer Sam Reiss Dies. AFL-CIO News, Saturday, January 3, 1976.

Pollack, Michael. "Sam Reiss Dead at 65; Labor Press Photographer." Textile Labor, March 1976, p. 11.

Reiss Photos Donated. New York Labor Heritage, Volume 1, No. 4, Summer 1980.

Rich, Rona. "Sam Reiss Knew His Labor." The Village Voice, December 15, 1975, p. 130.

Rich, Rona. Photocopy of unedited, unpublished manuscript of "Sam Reiss Knew His Labor" article, Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.

Sam Reiss: Labor Photographer. Labor Press Council of Metropolitan New York. Press release, n.d.

Thornton, Gene. "Photography View," New York Times, Sunday, January 25, 1976.

Transcript of audiotaped interview with Sam Reiss, Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.

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Container List

Box
1
Folder
1
 

Exhibit Press Releases, Reviews, Promotional Materials, Invitations, Correspondence, 1975-1976

Box
1
Folder
2
 

Slides From Exhibit Slideshow, 1948-1975

Photographic Prints, 1948-1975

Container 1     Title Date
Box: 2 Image #s 1, 3, 4-14, 16-18, 20 (correspond to slides with matching numbers)
Box: 3 Image #s 21-23, 25-33, 35-39 (correspond to slides with matching numbers)
Box: 4 Image #s 41-53, 55-60 (correspond to slides with matching numbers)
Box: 5 Image #s 61-75, 77-78, 80 (correspond to slides with matching numbers)
Box: 6 Image #s 81-89, 91-92, 94-99 (correspond to slides with matching numbers)
Box: 7 Image #s 101, 105-113, 116-120 (correspond to slides with matching numbers)
Box: 8 Image #s 121-122, 124, 128-140 (correspond to slides with matching numbers); six prints without matching slide numbers

General

Prints without matching slide numbers are captioned: Governor Rockefeller Signs Bill for Self-Insurance, 1966; Amalgamated Clothing Workers Grand Street Co-op Plaque, New York City, 1948; Taxi Driver's Jaywalking Ticket for Sitting in Cab, New York City, 1965; ILGWU Workers Protest Alexander's Imports, New York City, 1972; [Ray Corbett, New York State AFL-CIO President, Is Made Honorary Mohawk Chief, 1964]; [Support Demonstration for General Electric Strike, 1969].

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