Walter Rosenblum was born in 1919 into a poor Jewish immigrant family living on New York’s Lower East Side. His mother died when he was sixteen and to comfort himself he borrowed a camera and began to photograph in his neighborhood. He took a photography course at the Boys’ Club where he had a part-time job as part of Roosevelt’s National Youth Administration, and in 1937 he joined the Photo League, an extraordinarily vibrant community of New York photographers. It was there that he met Lewis Hine, Berenice Abbott, Elizabeth McCausland and other notables in the world of photography. He studied with Paul Strand (who became a life-long friend), and worked on his first major project, the Pitt Street series. The League not only provided darkroom space and equipment but also organized lectures and exhibits — Adams, Cartier-Bresson, Doisneau, Lange, Weston, Weegee — and published the legendary Photo Notes, of which Rosenblum was editor for several years. Appointed president in 1941, Rosenblum would be an active member of the League until it folded in 1952 as a result of being included on the Attorney General’s 1947 list of subversive organizations.
Drafted in 1943 as a U.S. Army Signal Corp combat photographer, Rosenblum landed on a Normandy beach on D-Day morning, after which he joined an anti-tank battalion in its liberation drive through France, Germany and Austria. One of the most decorated photographers of the Second World War, he took the first motion picture footage of the Dachau concentration camp. Rosenblum had an extensive teaching career, beginning in 1947 at Brooklyn College, where he taught until his retirement in 1986. He also taught at the Yale Summer School of Art and The Cooper Union, as well as abroad in Arles, France, in Sao Paolo, Brazil, and in Lestans, Italy. In 1980 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship for his project, “People of the South Bronx.
Following in Hine’s footsteps, Rosenblum’s work registers the impact on ordinary people — particularly children — of some of the major events of the twentieth century, from economic depression to colonialism and armed conflict. Working in East Harlem, Haiti, Europe, and the South Bronx, he was drawn to situations that revealed the experiences of immigrants and the poor.