Photographer Erika Stone Looks Back, Finds Appreciation Close to Home

Photographer Erika Stone, right, at the opening of her show last month at the Hallmark senior residence in Battery Park City. Photo by Jane Feldman

Dec. 01, 2014

Her photos are all about the people, lying in gutters and living it up, seated at bars and staring from windows, looking angry, bemused or indifferent. Erika Stone, now 90 and for the past seven years a resident of the Hallmark in Battery Park City, says she doesn’t have the eyesight or steadiness of hand to return to her passion of street photography and photojournalism. But her work got some new life and renewed visibility last month with a show of prints mounted at the Hallmark.

More than an exhibition, it was a celebration of a career she’s left behind, yet continues to live on in her striking black-and-white images.

“I wanted the people in the community to see her work,” said the Hallmark’s director of programs, Whitney Bryant-Glandon. Along with photographer Jane Feldman, Stone’s longtime friend, Bryant-Glandon arranged for the show. “It’s emotional, it’s beautiful, it’s touching. It’s inspiring,” she said of Stone’s work.

 Much of Stone’s street photography spans the 1940s and 50s, the majority of it taken in New York City and evocative of the city’s postwar milieu. But there are the celebrities, too. Clark Gable, Marlene Dietrich and Danny Kaye. A 1955 shot shows Marilyn Monroe riding a circus elephant.

When she was 12, Stone and her family, of Jewish background, left Germany in 1936. But already as a child in her native country she had caught the bug to take pictures. “I took pictures of all my relatives and everyone said, ‘Oh, you have such a good eye,’” Stone recalled, seated in her apartment at the Hallmark.

“When I came to New York I really started taking pictures because my father gave me his good Voigtlander camera.”

Stone’s real photo education came from the magazine and newspaper photographers she assisted. And as a young woman in the 1940s she joined the influential Photo League, a group devoted to socially conscious photography whose members included many of the best documentary photographers of the day. As a stringer, she worked for Time and Der Spiegel magazines while her personal explorations took her to East Harlem, the Lower East Side and the Bronx. From those forays came many of her most memorable photos.

With the birth of her children, Stone turned to photographing kids, and made that her career focus, though journalism still called on occasion.

The photographer said she stopped taking pictures “when cameras changed so much” and when she became less physically able to produce photos that were up to her standards.

“You prided yourself on having the ability to take pictures at just the right moment,” said Jane Feldman, who calls Stone her mentor. “I don’t think you quite have the confidence now.”

Feldman paused and turned to the reporter. “Erika always had incredible timing,” she said. 


                                   All photographs by Erika Stone

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