Mel Finkelstein: Picturing The Man Behind The Camera

Jewish Museum of Florida. Through October 14, 2012.

This exhibition examines a lifetime of work by acclaimed photojournalist Mel Finkelstein. From the late 1960s to the late 1980s, when readers rifled through The Daily News to see “what happened in New York yesterday,” more often than not, their view of the city and themselves came through the lens of Mel Finkelstein.

Few photojournalists in history have had as direct, immediate and continuous relationship with a mass audience as Finkelstein, from the time of his youth to his untimely death at age 60, when he was photo editor at The New York Post.

This collection of photos from the 1950s-1980s focuses on iconic symbols from our cultural past, giving a sense of this larger-than-life man and his world of time, place and celebrity. The exhibit is full of candid images of well-known personalities, from presidents to performers, such as Presidents Kennedy, Truman and Eisenhower, Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, The Beatles, John Travolta, Kim Novak, Marilyn Monroe and Sylvester Stallone,

Finkelstein’s ability to “play the hunch” resulted in his capturing the special moments that tell a story. As he is quoted saying, “The right spot at the right time. That’s what this business is all about. Sometimes you stay in one spot and other times you play hunches and you would cruise.” On his wits and his guts, his hustle and his hunches, Finkelstein managed with stunning regularity to be in the right spot at the right time.

Finkelstein had an uncanny nose for news, sniffing out an important story among the many routine occurrences that came over the police radios or phone tips. He cared as much about the story behind his photos, as their dramatic potential. He began covering race riots in Harlem and became committed to civil rights reporting, even when he was unwelcome because he was white.

Finkelstein summarized, “It’s such an overwhelming thing to look back, year after year after year, what you have seen, what has happened before your camera and what your camera has captured. You sort of get the feeling that you’re part of the continuity of history.”

Mel Finkelstein (1932-1992) started working for The Journal-American as a 16-year-old high school student. He stayed through its merger into The World-Journal-Tribune and that paper’s demise in 1967. For the next 20 years he worked at The Daily News, then joined The New York Post in 1988. This exhibit was curated by Donna Wendler and Susan J. Geier and circulated by the Mel Finkelstein Family Trust. Partially sponsored by Congregation Beth Jacob.

Jewish Museum of Florida
301 Washington Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply