Ben Shahn

Datesborn Lithuania, 1898 - 1969
RolesPhotographer
NationalityAmerican
BornKovno, Lithuania
DiedNew York, New York, United States

Ben Shahn immigrated to New York City with his family when he was six. Apprenticed to a commercial lithographer and earning his living in this trade until the 1930s, Shahn became a printmaker and painter. In 1934 the Federal Emergency Relief Administration commissioned him to produce a mural, and the following year he joined the Resettlement Administration as an artist in the Special Skills Division, where he became a part-time member of the photographic division under Roy Stryker. Shahn later described his job "to explain in posters to the people who need it what is being done for them and to the others what they are paying for."

Shahn briefly shared a Manhattan studio with Walker Evans, who instructed him on the determination of exposures for Shahn's newly acquired hand-held, 35mm Leica camera: "f9 for the bright side of the street, f4.5 for the shady side!" Shahn used photographs as a basis for paintings and drawings, saying that his early Resettlement Administration images "weren't just photographs to me: in a real sense they were the raw materials of painting." Shahn made more than six thousand photographs for the Resettlement Administration, later called the Farm Security Administration.