November 24, 1950, Time Life Pictures/Getty Images Front row: Theodoros Stamos, Jimmy Ernst, Barnett Newman, James Brooks, Mark Rothko; middle row: Richard Pousette-Dart, William Baziotes, Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, Robert Motherwell, Bradley Walker Tomlin; back row: Willem de Kooning, Adolph Gottlieb, Ad Reinhardt, Hedda Sterne by Nina Leen
Nina Leen (1914 – 1995)
Born in Russia, legendary photographer Nina Leen began taking pictures as a child, while travelling in Europe.
At the start of WW2 she moved to the US and began working as a contract photographer for LIFE Magazine in 1940. Her first published photograph was of tortoises fighting in the Bronx Zoo for the April 1st 1940 issue.
During her time with LIFE, where she worked until 1972, she produced over forty covers and countless spreads. Her observational style allowed her subjects to relax in front of her Rolliflex, and her versatility can be seen in the range of her subjects and techniques.
Her fashion images have a crisp, graphic quality, while her photographs of American fads and culture – especially of teenagers of the 40s and 50s – are warm, ironic and humorous. Her 1946 photograph ‘Family Portrait’ – which depicts four generations of an Ozark family – was included in The Family of Man exhibition of 1955.
She is perhaps best known for her charming photographs of squirrel Tommy Tucker in custom made dresses for a 1944 LIFE spread, and her wildlife photography from the 1960s. She published many books focusing on dogs, cats, snakes, bats, and monkeys.
An exhibition dedicated to the early women LIFE Magazine photographers, including Nina, was held at the New York Historical Society in October 2019.
By Paula Vellet