Larry Siegel’s photographs have a poetic gentleness and a universal cosmopolitan appeal. He considers himself a street photographer dealing with the human condition. His subjects range from simple everyday life to sublime moments in nature or among ancient monuments. Robert Frank, David Vestal and Walker Evans were his inspiration. While on his photographic journey, Siegel has also been a pioneering gallery director, photo critic, and teacher.
Larry Siegel was born in 1934 in Jersey City, New Jersey, but he grew up in Downtown Brooklyn, at a time when New York was still a great port.
After studying Commercial Photography at Metropolitan Vocational High Schoo Siegel got his first full-time job in 1952, assisting a legal photographer documenting accidents. Several years later Siegel printed for the photographer Jerry Schatzberg, famous for his early Bob Dylan pictures and later as a filmmaker.
While living on the Lower East Side, Siegel opened the Image Gallery at 100 E. 10th Street, the only display space in New York devoted solely to photography at the time. Siegel likes to recount that the first person to enter the gallery, hours before the opening reception, was Eugene Smith, the famed photographer. Siegel apologized for the show having not yet been hung, the prints still on the floor. Smith graciously volunteered to help Siegel hang the Image Gallery’s first exhibition, a two-person show of the photographs of Lou Bernstein and Fred Plaut. Other distinguished photographers to have visited the gallery were Aaron Siskind and Minor White. In response to a fund’s appeal to help the gallery survive, Ansel Adams sent a check for $25.
Among other photographers of prominence shown were Rudy Burckhardt, Saul Leiter and David Vestal, Gary Winogrand, and Duane Michals. The Image Gallery showed Bernice Abbott’s Atget prints prior to their exhibition at MOMA.
During this period Siegel taught at community centers and in 1960 he became an assistant to Robert Frank, the same year he sold his first print of his own work to Steichen at MOMA in 1960.
In 1966 Siegel went to live in Mexico City with his wife and two children. He did freelance magazine work and taught photography at the San Carlos Academy and in private workshops. Siegel enjoyed a warm friendship with the Mexican photographyer Manuel Alvarez Bravo. The now prominent Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide was a student in Siegel's workshop.
Larry Siegel was the first full-time photographer hired by the Organizing Committee of the Mexican Olympics for the publications department. Portfolios of Mr. Siegel’s work were published in the Mexican photography magazine Fotomundo and the poetry magazine El Corno Emplumado. He had major exhibitions in Mexico City at Casa del Lago in 1967 (his American Photographs) and at Galleria Peccanins in 1968, (his Mexican Photographs).
Siegel returned to New York in 1970. He founded and directed the Midtown Y Gallery in 1971 and directed it until 1981. Among the established photographers shown at the gallery were Graciela Iturbide, Saul Leiter, Leon Levinstein. But, In addition to one, two and three person exhibitions of established artists, the gallery had as part of its mission the exhibition of new talent. It also featured a number of ground-breaking theme-based exhibitions, among them: “Coming Of Age In America” a show comparing our attitude towards youth and aging; “The Jew In New York” highlighting the Jewish presence here; “Women Photographers,I & II;” “New York City in World War II.” These exhibits showed contemporary work as well as photographs from the Library of Congress. “Coming Of Age” and “The Jew In New York” traveled extensively around the country.
For two years Siegel edited “Photo Reporter,” a newsletter he founded which surveyed news of importance to the photography community and was a forum for reviews of shows in other galleries around town.
Siegel was an instructor of photography at New York’s School of Visual Arts from 1970 to 1980 and in 1981 he photographed with Sy Rubin 14th St. under the auspices of a National Endowment Grant. These pictures of one of New York's major street were subsequently published in a book, 14th Street.
From 1980 Siegel traveled extensively in Europe and North Africa. He lived several years in Northern Italy in the town of Pavia, where he taught photography. He had major exhibitions in Pavia, in Torino at Luisella d’Alessandro Gallery (1985), and in Milan at Galleria San Fedele (1986). Siegel carried out assignments for Italian magazines, including Epoca and Genius.
Siegel's work is represented in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, the New York Public Library, Galerie Fiolet of Amsterdam and in various private collections.
Siegel returned to the US in 1988 and taught at The Center for Media Arts (now defunct). After a serious automobile accident, his career as a photographer was put on hold for over a decade. Siegel now divides his time between photographing and travel.