Hester Street, with its open-air pushcart market, was once the bustlingcenter of immigrant Jewish life on the Lower East Side. By the 1940s, many vendors had moved their wares indoors. In 1945 Sol Libsohn, one of the founders of the Photo League, photographed the storefront of 88 Hester Street. This tenement building, located on a narrow block between Eldridge and Allen, was then home to a grocer on street level and S.H. Laufer’s optometry shop one floor above. In the upper right portion of Libsohn’s picture, you can see part of the shop’s sign in the window, with its distinctive illustration of bespectacled eyes and a mix of English and Hebrew lettering.
This background detail, however, is easily overlooked, as the emphasis in this photograph is on the people: the frieze of figures waiting at the top of the stairs; the old woman standing on the stoop, caught in a moment of reverie; the man who eyes the camera suspiciously at right; and the young boy who catches sight of us just as he exits the frame. In this richly compelling photograph, Libsohn captured the spirit of this crowded city street and the growing diversity of the neighborhood. Click to continue »