Harold Matzner was one of the most important and influential photographers of the 20th century. An award-winning chronicler of forgotten corners of American life, Matzner captured the essence of people who were different, but always fascinating. In this excerpt from Hermetica: The Art of Vision (available October 8), we meet the man behind the camera.
Photography and Iconic Images
From early childhood, Harold Matzner was surrounded by photography. “I think I might have been the fifth or sixth child in a family of photographers owing to the fact that my father was a photographer,” Matzner said. “I grew up in a very photographic household.” We see that in Matzner’s work — his iconic shots of the Depression-era Great Lakes and his portraits of American Indians. As he explained to Phoebe Jones, a fellow photographer and artist, “People are almost never aware of the human behind the camera, and it’s important to show people as people, not people as models.” In his prime, Matzner was often commissioned to take iconic shots. One of his most famous is of the Chicago skyline with the Sears Tower in the distance. One of his most iconic images is of the Great Lakes. Here, he captured the steel mills and surrounding steel towns in “Mothballed” — a word that suggests ailing health — in a scene that still stirs emotions today.
Harold Matzner’s Technique
One of the most fascinating aspects of Matzner’s work is his technique. Unlike so many photographers of his generation, Matzner used a darkroom rather than a studio. This allowed him to capture a wider range of light and shadow effects and produce images that are unique in their ability to capture both mood and visual effects of light and dark. In these images, the light coming from the left is typically darker than the light coming from the right. This is because the light coming from the left is generally more powerful — it contains more of the color red, which is generally associated with the left side of the body.
Harold Matzner’s Portrait
Harold Matzner was a photographer whose work captured the forgotten corners of American life. He was also a man with a controversial life. As Matzner said in an interview, “When I was growing up, there was really no way to get documentation of the poor — that is, of people who didn’t have wealth. If someone needed to be documented, it was almost always the rich and famous.” Moreover, portrait of harold matzner exposed what he viewed as the shortcomings of mainstream American society. In one notable image, Matzner captured a group of Native American children at their pemmican factory in Mandan, North Dakota, which supplied the American armed forces during World War II. This image sparked a debate about whether the children were too young to understand the dangers of the factory environment. Matzner’s daughter, Phoebe Jones, disputes this, arguing that the children in this image are about 12 to 15 years old.
Since the beginning, photographers have been trying to capture the fleeting moments in life that define it. Harold Matzner was one of these pioneers. His work was groundbreaking for its time, and continues to be admired and celebrated by audiences around the world.