Stettner is a celebrated American photographer whose seventy-year photographic legacy includes iconic images of Paris and New York, the two cities he called his “spiritual mothers.”
He was born in 1922 (an identical twin) and raised in Brooklyn, New York. As a teenager and young man, Stettner was a regular visitor to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to explore its photographic prints collection. His first camera was a “nondescript Brownie” to put it in his own words, and then continued to shoot with film over digital for the rest of his life. Stettner studied and later taught at the Photo League beginning in 1939, until he enlist in the Army and worked as a combat photographer in the Pacific during World War II. In 1947 he left New York for Paris, a three-week trip that turned into a five-year love affair with Paris. During that time he curated the first exhibition of Post-World War II French photographers on behalf of the Photo League and shown in New York. He received his Bachelor of Arts, Photography & Cinema I.D.H.E.C. at Paris University. Throughout his life, he befriended and worked with many great photographers, particularly Brasaai, who went on to write about Stettner: “He refuses the easy tricks of originality, and renounces all showiness and effect, to seek his way within the bosom of everyday life.”
Capturing the changes in the people, culture, and architecture of both New York and Paris, Stettner used primarily black-and-white and later towards the end of his life, color images, in order to document the fleeting moments in the life of the cities, moments that often cannot be recaptured. Stettner has documented the architectural and cultural evolution of Paris and New York, making his archive of thousands of images an important resource. Few photographers have such an extensive archive of both cities, one that includes historic images of each city's most celebrated landmarks and the daily lives of its citizens.
Stettner's work has an unforced naturalistic quality to it, as he sought to capture the every day lives of his subjects. He was particularly interested in documenting the lives of the working class in each city and he demonstrates sensitivity in this endeavor, photographing them with great dignity. A limited amount of his work is devoted to still life, portraits, and landscape images. Additionally, his paintings and sculptures tend to be abstract, although always based on his obsession with the human being, and in sharp contrast to his clear, vivid photographic images.
Into his 80s, Stettner continued to photograph with great energy. He spent significant time sculpting and painting, as well as mixing his work and painting on some of his photographic images. Louis Stettner passed away in Paris on October 13th, 2016.