Louis Stettner: capturing Paris and New York

One of New York’s most beloved photographers, Louis Stettner has been recording the changes in New York and Paris for over 60 years with his unique look at the world. A respected teacher of photography and a talented artist, Stettner’s work is exhibited around the world to great critical acclaim.

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Born in Brooklyn in 1922, Stettner originally trained as a carpenter in the family business before turning his attention to the medium of photography. Starting with an old box camera back in 1947, he aimed to capture the essence of city life in a post-war environment and in a developing world, starting first with the New York area that was his home before later moving to Paris, where he still resides and works today.

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Louis Stettner’s photographs are always very engaging to look at, whether he’s seeking the humanist perspective or catching the essence of architecture and structure.

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He tends to produce series based around architectural or portrait themes, alongside the eye for detail that makes him a sympathetic and observant streetscape photographer. Some of Stettner’s more famous works include Penn Station (part of the Penn Subway series), Aubervilles and Twin Towers with Sea Gull.

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The artist and photographer still works today, despite being in his nineties now. His work is highly sought after and exhibitions in his name have taken place as recently as 2010. Using a blend of black and white and colour stills, Stettner likes to add to his work with paint. A keen sculptor and artist, it’s his eye for detail and the ability to spot the extraordinary in the ordinary that make Stettner such a well-loved character.

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Some of Stettner’s best images have come from the city of Paris. Frequently encountered themes in his work include industry, the working sectors and workers’ lives. The shift to the modern era in day to day life crops up in many of Stettner’s images, whether this is in the form of a new building contextualised against an old one or in catching the human aspect of a busy street scene.

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There’s something fascinating about the way Stettner picks up the essence of people in his pictures. Many of his subjects are facing away from the camera and concentrating on some other scene themselves – an intriguing layer that makes the pictures all the more compelling.

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His portraits and street scenes make some amusing – and at times, cynical – observations about the lives we lead, and when viewed over the six decades of production, give an unusually personal glimpse into the often dry subjects of work, architecture and transportation.

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Stettner’s pictures are an insight into a world new enough to be recognisable but old enough to be different. His modern photography holds the key elements of those older photographs, ensuring that all of his work is valuable in pieces and as a whole. Photographers and historians alike love the detail that Stettner brings to the past, making subjects and cities come alive through simple but powerful street shots.

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