47. Social Issue Lecturers
Jacob Riis, Lights and Shadows
Want to see on screen what you’d be afraid to see in person—the seedy side of New York? Lights and Shadows of a Great City was based on a book by James McCabe, colleague of Jacob Riis, the famous reformer who used lantern shows to transform the slums. This show used images by both McCabe and Riis, as well as others. The picture of the bar shows racial and sexual mixing, a troubling combination to Victorians.
Riis is known today as a groundbreaking documentary photographer whose shocking images revealed the desperate lives of the poor, beset by “Toughs” like the one shown in Lights and Shadows.
Riis did not consider himself much of a photographer, and took very few photographs. He was primarily an illustrated lecturer, giving thousands of presentations to promote his cause. His performances mixed his slides with outraged passion, statistics, lively stories, and humor—a very effective, and popular combination. See a re-created condensation here.