Irving Herzberg (1915-1992) was rarely without his camera. In the tradition of street photographers such as Eugene Atget, he documented the neighborhoods, subways and boardwalks of Brooklyn beginning in the early 1950s until his death at the age of 77, when he bequeathed his life's work-about 2,300 photographs, negatives and slides-to Brooklyn Public Library's Brooklyn Collection.
Herzberg, who lived in Brighton Beach for thirty years, was drawn to Hasidic Williamsburg after a chance visit to the neighborhood in the early 1960s. During a decade of Sunday visits he became a familiar figure, at first photographing street scenes but gradually gaining entry to businesses, schools and the inner life of the community.
One can readily understand why this poet of the urban landscape was drawn to Williamsburg--an austere urban environment combined with a community dedicated to the preservation of a traditional spiritual life generates intriguing visual juxtapositions. While his images of adults include fine character studies, Herzberg was often at his most charming when photographing children, capturing their beauty in moments of mischief, play and contemplation.
The Williamsburg photographs comprise one of several subject groups Herzberg undertook during the course of his prolific amateur career. Others include a vibrant and humorous subway series, a Coney Island series, and images of Jewish life on Ocean Parkway. Working from the bathroom of his apartment for nearly forty years, Irving I. Herzberg amassed and gave to the people of Brooklyn an irreplaceable record of change, tradition and spirituality in the life of our communities.