Louis Stettner: Chromatic Reverie

Louis Stettner’s “Chromatic Reverie” will be on display at The Hulett Collection from December 2, 2023, to January 13, 2024.
Louis Stettner delved into the realm of color photography and painting in the early 1990s. He found a particular affinity for the Cibachrome process, appreciating its vibrant hues. The photographs showcased in this collection were captured during his annual summer sojourns to New York City, predominantly in and around Times Square, or in Paris, where he lived during that period. Stettner initiated each day in New York by strolling the streets, deliberately exploring the less gentrified sections of Times Square, west of Ninth Avenue. Here, he sought the authentic presence of regular New Yorkers set against the dynamic backdrop of the city’s evolving architecture, both commonplace and iconic.
Throughout his photographic career, Stettner displayed a keen interest in ordinary individuals, with a particular focus on people engaged in their work. This was not merely a perspective but also a political expression. In contrast, he frequently captured scenes of people at rest or during their commutes home, exemplified by the Penn Station series from 1958 and his initial Subway photographs from 1946. Stettner shaped his artistic vision by drawing from two traditions: American “street photography” and the French humanist photography tradition. Even as he transitioned to color photography later in life, much of his format and purpose remained rooted in these foundational traditions.

About the Author

Louis Stettner was an esteemed American photographer whose prolific seventy-year photographic career is marked by iconic depictions of Paris and New York, the two cities he affectionately referred to as his “spiritual mothers.”
Born in 1922 as an identical twin, Stettner grew up in Brooklyn, New York. During his adolescence and early adulthood, he frequented the Metropolitan Museum of Art to explore its collection of photographic prints. His inaugural camera was a humble “nondescript Brownie,” and he remained dedicated to film photography throughout his life, eschewing digital technology. Stettner commenced his studies at the Photo League in 1939, later becoming a teacher. He temporarily interrupted his artistic pursuits to serve as a combat photographer in the Pacific during World War II. In 1947, what was initially a three-week trip to Paris evolved into a five-year love affair with the city. During this period, he curated the first exhibition of post-World War II French photographers on behalf of the Photo League, exhibited in New York. Stettner earned his Bachelor of Arts in Photography & Cinema from Paris University’s I.D.H.E.C. Throughout his life, he formed friendships and collaborations with notable photographers, most notably Brassaï, who praised Stettner’s approach: “He refuses the easy tricks of originality, renounces all showiness and effect, to seek his way within the bosom of everyday life.”
Documenting the transformations in the people, culture, and architecture of both New York and Paris, Stettner predominantly utilized black-and-white, transitioning to color images towards the end of his life. His aim was to immortalize fleeting moments in the life of these cities. Stettner’s extensive archive, encompassing thousands of images, stands as a crucial resource, capturing the architectural and cultural evolution of Paris and New York. Few photographers possess such comprehensive documentation of both cities, encompassing historical landmarks and the daily lives of their citizens.
Stettner’s work is characterized by an unforced naturalistic quality, reflecting his dedication to capturing the everyday lives of his subjects. He displayed a particular interest in documenting the working class with sensitivity and dignity. While a limited portion of his work explores still life, portraits, and landscapes, his paintings and sculptures, often abstract, consistently revolve around his fascination with the human experience, providing a sharp contrast to his clear and vivid photographic compositions.
Even into his 80s, Stettner maintained an energetic commitment to photography. In addition to his photographic endeavors, he dedicated time to sculpting and painting, occasionally integrating these mediums by painting on some of his photographic images. Louis Stettner passed away in Paris on October 13th, 2016.

Louis Stettner : Chromatic Reverie
December 2, 2023 – January 13, 2024
The Hullett Collection – Tulsa, OK , 74120

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A portrait of Louis Stettner

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