Boardwalks, Beaches & Boulevards: Harold Feinstein's photographs of New York from the 1940s to the '70s

Coney Island Teenagers, 1949 © Estate of Harold Feinstein All rights reserved

Harold Feinstein might have admired the work of W. Eugene Smith and Henri Cartier-Bresson, but he was not a photographer who would stand back and observe, unnoticed by his subjects.

In nearly every picture, you can see how close he is to his subject. In fact, it's this physical closeness that sets his work apart from other street photographers of the same period. That's whether he's standing over a group of happy teenagers lying on a Coney Island beach, photographing a couple on the boulevard, or capturing the immutable gaze of a young child.

Where his contemporaries – photographers like Diane Arbus, Walker Evans and Garry Winogrand – documented the plight of the human condition without their subjects' awareness, Feinstein celebrated humanity.

From the glittering lights of Times Square to the streets of Harlem; from the smoke-filled coffee shops to subway cars; from city stoops to crowded beaches, Feinstein's desire to connect with the world around him and share the experiences he saw is evident in every composition.

A deep sense of empathetic humanity runs through these photographs. As Feinstein himself put it, "Everywhere people live out their own personal story, yet are tied together through the universal emotions of love, loss, curiosity, humour and compassion... My street photography is a small sampling of my photographic journey bearing witness to the beauty and mystery of this human life."

Born in Coney Island in 1931, Feinstein left school to begin photographing at the age of 15 and became one of the most prominent figures in the vanguard of the New York City street photography scene, joining the famed Photo League when he was 17.

At the age of 19, Feinstein's work was acquired by Edward Steichen for the Museum of Modern Art. He was included in shows at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1954 and the Museum of Modern Art in 1957. Feinstein also had a solo show at the legendary Helen Gee's Limelight Gallery in 1957. Despite his early success, Feinstein's extensive collection of classic street photography, nudes, portraits and still life have seldom been exhibited. Until now, that is.

A retrospective of his remarkable work is currently on show at London's David Hill Gallery. Harold Feinstein – Boardwalks, Beaches & Boulevards runs until 24 April 2020.

Coke Sign on the Boardwalk, 1949 © Estate of Harold Feinstein All rights reserved

Coke Sign on the Boardwalk, 1949 © Estate of Harold Feinstein All rights reserved

125th Street From Elevated Train, 1950 © Estate of Harold Feinstein All rights reserved

125th Street From Elevated Train, 1950 © Estate of Harold Feinstein All rights reserved

Man and Daughters at the Sideshow, 1950 © Estate of Harold Feinstein All rights reserved

Man and Daughters at the Sideshow, 1950 © Estate of Harold Feinstein All rights reserved

Guitar & Cigarette, 1950 © Estate of Harold Feinstein All rights reserved

Guitar & Cigarette, 1950 © Estate of Harold Feinstein All rights reserved

Men in Fedoras, 1950 © Estate of Harold Feinstein All rights reserved

Men in Fedoras, 1950 © Estate of Harold Feinstein All rights reserved

Boardwalk Sheet Music Montage, 1952 © Estate of Harold Feinstein All rights reserved

Boardwalk Sheet Music Montage, 1952 © Estate of Harold Feinstein All rights reserved

Blanket Toss, 1955 © Estate of Harold Feinstein All rights reserved

Blanket Toss, 1955 © Estate of Harold Feinstein All rights reserved

Couple Subway Door, year unknown © Estate of Harold Feinstein All rights reserved

Couple Subway Door, year unknown © Estate of Harold Feinstein All rights reserved

Lady of the Lake, 1974 © Estate of Harold Feinstein All rights reserved

Lady of the Lake, 1974 © Estate of Harold Feinstein All rights reserved