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Guide to the Ken Ratner Photographs
circa 1992, 2013-2016
 PR 373

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400


New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Larry Weimer

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on November 30, 2018
Finding aid written in English. using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Biographical / Historical

Ken Ratner, an art collector and photographer, was born in New York City in 1953 and lived in Texas and California before returning to the city in the mid-1990s. From an early age, he began to draw focusing on portraits, but later street life and the urban poor would become his primary subject matter in both his drawing and photography. He took evening sketch classes at the Art Students League in New York City in the 1980s, and would regularly study artwork and photographs in museums, galleries, and art books.

Ratner is a self-taught photographer whose principal field of interest is the urban city, particularly its derelict aspects that one often shuns, ignores, fails to notice or avoids. Yet in these out of the way places, he discovers a rich humanity in keeping with his long-time interest in the work of the Ashcan School artists from the turn of the last century. Like many of those artists (John Sloan, Jerome Myers), Ratner is similarly inspired to go into the streets to seek out an inherent beauty in commonplace subjects. He aspires to incorporate into his photographs some of the keen observations that these artists recorded. Ratner also draws inspiration from the urban scenes of photographers Berenice Abbott, Walter Rosenblum and Helen Levitt.

"In photographing street scenes, black and white is my medium of choice. The medium allows for clearly defined and dramatic effects, and is well suited for emphasizing light and shadow. Balance is a critical aspect. One of the first things I do is to look at the four corners of a picture. It's vital to me that a picture be properly balanced. I concentrate on capturing scenes of the lower class and their environment. I find that these residents tend to reveal themselves in a more natural way than those living in affluent sections. Above all, it is my hope that people viewing my photographs will find them interesting and humanistic. I have tried to express this in my work."

(The above note was taken from a biographical note on the website of The Rockwell Museum in connection with an exhibition of Western Art from Ratner's collection.)