Jules Aarons (1921-2008)

Today I stumbled upon a fellow Bostonian street-photographer. Sometimes we bump to each other  near downtown crossing and it is nice to have some chat about photography or whatever. He showed me some prints of very nice shots he did. He grew up in Boston and is of Italian origin. He told me how Boston was back then, with the Irish and the Italian boys fighting each others. It was him who told me about the exhibition of photographs from Jules Aarons at the public library few months ago, a Boston-based street photographer whose body of work spanned from the late 40’s to the 70’s. I went to see that exhibition after he told me about it.

Aarons did a lovely work, especially on Boston’s streets. His work is in the vein of Cartier-Bresson (who was a strong influence) but to me is even closer to Helen Levitt. Actually photographing kids in the street seems to have been one of Aarons’ favorite theme (alas a motif which is likely to be much less documented nowadays), but it is especially his ability to capture body language in a very poetic way that reminds me Levitt. Also his stylistic approach is very ‘classic”, as opposed to e.g. Garry Winogrand. Hence a strong nostalgia vibe in the photographs.

It is quite exciting to look at a body of work done decades ago in the place where you live. Some of the photographs he did can be located very precisely (who said street signs are “distracting objects” ?…) and you can play the game to go back and give it a try.

By the way I found this one that I did recently :

… not being aware that Aarons stood almost at the same place to do this photograph more than 50 years before.

Playground with flag pole, North End © Estate of Jules Aarons

Well… the one from Aarons is way better than mine… Not sure the pole is still there by the way, probably not. I’ll check it out next time…

And by the way my friend who told me about Aarons first could be one of the kid playing in that North-End playground in the Jules Aarons’ photograph…

Jules Aarons was a Boston University physicist who was an internationally known expert in the study of radio-wave propagation.  He was also an acclaimed photographer whose work is in the permanent collections of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and Paris’s Bibliotheque Nationale.  Aarons was born in 1921 and passed away in 2008.



2 thoughts on “Jules Aarons (1921-2008)

  1. Long time no comment. I should work on English puns… Anyway… Back to the point. Since I follow blogs via Google Reader I tend to read articles without commenting them. It’s quite a bad habit.
    Plus I have been lazy and writing in English demands a little bit more effort when you have stopped practising during the summer.

    Thanks for introducing me to Aarons’ work (as you may remember I know very little about photographers) and for the interesting link.

    It’s quite sad when you think about it. I recently thought about it when I tried to do some “street photography” on the beach in Normandy and saw some interesting children. “What will people think I’m doing ?”

    I understand the concern around children but nowadays the fear of pedophile tends to take excessive proportions and is (IMO) completely spoiling the adult/child relationship (I had some great time with adults when I was a kid and learned a lot.).

    Yet, the stupid prejudices in favour of women (for once !) may save the female street photographers from this paranoia. It would be interesting to ask them if they ever had such hostile encounters.

    • Photographs of kids in the street belong to the street photography tradition. It is a very common motif but an essential and ‘core’ one, at least I believe so. Kids have a specific energy and body language which provides a timeless feel, something like a ‘floating’ vibe. They are somewhat loosened from ‘Zeitgeist’ in the sense that the time markers have less grip with kids. But they are hard to capture (in photograph) and the current hassle on photographers shooting kids is a real issue because you need more time and concentration to get the ‘right’ moment, and more often that not a good kids’ photograph is all about the proper timing.

      Although I can understand the reasons for that suspicion (and I the father of 3 young kids), it is clear that many people overreact. There is lack of common sense, like for lots of other things (over-information and over-protection make us lose common sense very often)

      Generally I believe that the somewhat “offensive” feel of a camera being pointed at you by a stranger is softened when it is hold in female hands. Seems like people are in a less defensive posture when photographed by a woman – and of course they are likely to react in a much less offensive way than for with male. I admit it is the case for me, I tend to to expect more sensitivity from a female photographer. But is is just a pre-conception.

      And definitely for photographing children women are less likely to be hassled, for obvious reasons – though it is merely an assumption.

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