Born in New York in 1953, Lawrence Schwartzwald studied literature at New York University. He worked as a freelance photographer for the New York Post for nearly two decades and in 1997 New York Magazine dubbed him the Post’s “king of the streets.” Books and literature have shaped several of his photo series including “Reading New York” and “Famous Poets,” both self-published in 2017. Schwartzwald lives and works in Manhattan.
I first learned of Lawrence Schwartzwald’s photography through Canadian poet Frank Beltrano (who has previously been promoted on Authors-Readers International and Reading Recommendations as well as being a great personal pal). Frank had suggested I’d find Lawrence’s photos very interesting. I became Facebook friends with Lawrence, enjoyed viewing all his photography, and was very pleased when he announced the publication of this collection of photographs of people reading. The concept is so in keeping with my own attempts to promote and encourage reading that I then invited Lawrence to join Reading Recommendations to tell us about it. He has since published the book in a hardcover edition.
Also since that time, I have been reading about Reading, with an eye to studying the subject – the How, What, When, Where, Why, and Who Readers read – and will possibly even write about what I discover through my research. Lawrence’s photographs of people reading have been a constant inspiration to me during this endeavour!
The Art of Reading
The Art of Reading presents New York photographer Lawrence Schwartzwald’s candid images of readers, made between 2001 and 2017. Partly inspired by André Kertész’s On Reading (1971), Schwartzwald’s subjects are mostly average New Yorkers―sunbathers, a bus driver, shoeshine men, subway passengers, denizens of bookshops and cafes―but also artists (most notably Amy Winehouse at Manhattan’s now-closed all-night diner Florent).
In 2001 Schwartzwald’s affectionate photo of a New York bookseller reading at his makeshift sidewalk stand on Columbus Avenue (and inadvertently exposing his generous buttock cleavage) caused a minor sensation: first published in the New York Post, it inspired a reporter for the New York Observer to interview the “portly peddler” in a humorous column titled “Wisecracking on Columbus Avenue” of 2001. Since then Schwartzwald has sought out his readers of books on paper―mostly solitary and often incongruous, desperate or vulnerable―who fly in the face of the closure of traditional bookshops and the surge in e-books, dedicating themselves to what Schwartzwald sees as a vanishing art: the art of reading.
To view some of the photographs from this series as a slideshow, click here on the website.
What Lawrence is working on now: I am presently working on four projects. One I have been working on for a few years is LOST IN THE STACKS, portraits of readers at the iconic Strand Bookstore in NYC. I hope to have completion of the series in a few months, but shoppers/readers wearing Covid masks may put a damper on it. The bookstore will re-open under Phase One in a few days. I am keeping mum for the time being on the other series, but two of them involve images on film from the 90’s to early 2000’s.
For more information on Lawrence Schwartzwald, his photography, shows and exhibitions, and where to buy his book, please see his website.