Born in the Bronx and based in New York for much of his life, Sy Kattelson is one of the unacknowledged greats of the city's photographic history. To celebrate his oeuvre, Howard Greenberg Gallery is mounting a solo exhibition of his pioneering post-war work – the first in almost 20 years.
Kattelson, who studied under Paul Strand, started his mature career in the 1940s as a member of the Photo League. This group, disbanded by McCarthyists during the Red Scare, sought to use documentary photography as an impetus for progressive social change. He thus chose as his subjects the city's more workaday inhabitants, often shot without their own knowledge.
These early works reveal a New York quite unlike the glitzy metropolis of the wealthy. Instead, we have a dirty, frenzied city whose residents dash from home to work and back again. Though they depict the unsuspecting, Kattelson's photographs never demonstrate voyeurism. Instead they emanate respect for every New Yorker, even the most anonymous.
Throughout this period he developed a style that magnified the city's enormity. A fondness for transparent surfaces allowed him to create illusions of jagged, unending urban mass. Later, towards the start of the 60s, Kattelson became a master of Carbon print processing, in which coats of emulsion create layered, collage-like colour photographs.
Collecting 45 photographs from the 1940s to the 1980s, much of which has never been on public view, the new exhibition should confirm Kattelson's place in the street photographic firmament.