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Nat Fein

(1914 - 2000)


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A Press Photographer for the New York Herald Tribune for thirty-three years, Mr. Fein is well known for his ability to capture the soul of a bygone era of New York City. He is the winner of the 1949 Pulitzer Prize and carries the distinction of having taken the most celebrated photograph in sports history (New York Times, 1992), "The Babe Bows Out." His remarkable collection of journalistic photography spans from the early 1930s to the mid 1960s. Nat Fein began at the Tribune as a copyboy in 1932. Three years later invested $95.00 in a Speed Graphic camera. He quickly turned himself into a competent press photographer with a flair for staging shots. He made it a habit to carry props in the trunk of his car, and his streak of daredevilry sent him to high, dangerous places to capture unusual shots, like the ones he took atop the Verrazano Bridge while it was under construction.

Nat Fein's beat was New York in the decades immediately following World War II. His art was his ability to catch the heart of an era, an era in which true American heroes captured the imagination of young and old; an era that saw great changes taking place, especially in New York.

In 1948, Fein was assigned to cover Yankee Stadium when Babe Ruth stood at home plate for the last time to say good bye to his fans. The field was swarming with photographers, and Fein, snapping away, caught the rear-angled composition that so effectively captured the former hulk of an athlete with his spindle legs and wasted body, pent with pain. Ruth's identity was unmistakable even without the sight of his face. Fein used natural light on that overcast day, which was essential for Fein's softer composition and his ability to capture the surrounding scene with clarity. This photograph titled, "The Babe Bows Out," was awarded the esteemed Pulitzer Prize for the best news photograph.

The people that Fein photographed tell one part of New York City, a city where change is constant. The city itself was undergoing a metamorphosis of great profundity: the end of the trolley car, a vestige of a calmer lifestyle; the slow transformation of the Lower East Side from a clamorous area of Jewish immigrants, of which the pushcart was a primary symbol, to the gradual sideby-side Spanish influence as immigrants from Latin America began to gravitate to this historic hub. Nat Fein caught this momentous time on film.

No other photographer has won as many awards, the most precious of these being the Pulitzer Prize. Heroes of the war were his subjects as well: Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, William Westmoreland, and Eleanor Roosevelt. Scientists such as Albert Einstein, humanitarians such as Albert Schweitzer; movie megastars such as Marilyn Monroe and literary legends such as Carl Sandburg also posed for him. One understands the 1940s and 1950s upon seeing the breadth of the people and events captured in Nat Fein's photographs.


Sources: American Jewish Historical Society Newsletter Fall/Winter 2003

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