John Albok's Neighborhood

September 21, 2013February 23, 2014

John Albok (1894–1982) was a tailor by profession and an artist by passion. He emigrated from his native Hungary to New York City in 1921 and immediately became an American citizen. By day, he made fine dresses and suits from his Upper East Side tailor shop. In his free time he photographed the activities of his neighborhood and other areas of the city. He printed his images in a small darkroom in the back and proudly hung them around the shop.

Albok’s hardships in Hungary, where his father and a sister died of starvation during World War I, led him to focus on the more positive aspects of life. He did not ignore signs of the Great Depression or World War II, but he gained far more satisfaction in conveying the beauty of Central Park. His greatest achievements, though, were his empathetic depictions of his neighborhood’s street life, especially its children.

Most documentary photographers working in the mid-twentieth century approached their subjects as outsiders. Albok, on the other hand, photographed from the perspective of an insider. He brought to his work an eye for composition and the gift of getting his subjects to accept the camera’s presence, even at close range. At their best, his photographs blend the relaxed ease of snapshot photography with an engaging documentary style. They make one feel like a member of the community.

Over sixty-plus years, Albok made some 16,000 photographs and exposed dozens of reels of cinematic film. Although the primary viewers of his photographs were his neighbors, the Museum of the City of New York saw the value of his work and awarded him their first-ever, one-person photography exhibition in 1938. In 1982, they gave him a full retrospective. Today his photographs can be found in art museums across the United States and Europe.

This exhibition of twenty-five rare vintage photographs by the artist, generously donated to the Amon Carter by his daughter, joins Albok on his walks around his neighborhood, mainly during the years of 1932 to 1945.