88-year-old street photographer len speier opens his first solo show
The accomplished artist and lawyer will debut ‘Nearly Everybody,’ a show featuring work made from the 1960s to 1980s, tonight in New York.
New York City has a rich tradition of homebred street photographers: Garry Winogrand hailed from the Bronx, Helen Levitt from Brooklyn, and Diane Arbus from the Upper East Side. Among these native photographers is Len Speier, an 88-year-old street shooter who was born in the Bronx to a working Jewish family in 1927. Over the past eight decades, Speier has photographed the spontaneous scenes that play out on the streets of his home city. Tonight, he opens his first solo show, Nearly Everybody, at Daniel Cooney Fine Art in Chelsea.
Speier received his first camera and film development kit from an uncle at 13 years old, and with it, "an urge to make a comment about the human condition," he's said. Having been brought up in the Bronx, Speier developed a sensitivity to social issues in his childhood; he'd call out family members who expressed racist thoughts, and worked with the NAACP to teach minority high school students photography. Speier was drafted in the Second World War, but after the atom bombs had already devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki; he worked as a clerk in a general's office in Asaka, where he photographed Japanese street scenes in his spare time.
Upon returning to NYC, Speier enrolled in NYU's law program, and later pursued commercial trial law. Still enamored with street photography, he switched his practice to intellectual property and began to teach popular courses at FIT and the New School titled, What Every Photographer Should Know About the Law. He's still passionate about the law of art, and hosts lectures to discuss photographic legal procedures and copyright protections. All the while, he's continued to shoot on streets around the world.
Nearly Everybody includes 48 images Speier made in New York and Europe over three decades: the 60s, 70s, and 80s. The candid images — which demonstrate Speier's senses of humor and compassion — celebrate the uniqueness of the weird and wonderful city we share.
Len Speier, 'Nearly Everybody' is on view at Daniel Cooney Fine Art from September 15 to October 29. Speier will celebrate his 89th birthday by hosting a public conversation with writer Sara Rosen on October 1 at 3pm.
Text Emily Manning
Photography © Len Speier