Monroe Gallery of Photography : Sonia Handelman Meyer and Ida Wyman

Winford Hunter

Monroe Gallery of Photography presents an exhibition of photographs by two important and pioneering women photographers, Sonia Handelman Meyer (1920-2022) and Ida Wyman (1926-2019). The exhibition opens on Friday, April 21 with a Gallery talk by managers of the photographer’s estates, Joe Meyer, son of Sonia Handelman Meyer, and Heather Garrison, granddaughter of Ida Wyman. The exhibition continues through June 18, 2023.

The Photo League was a collective of photographers active between 1936-1951 who believed their work could change poor social conditions and champion photography as an art form in the process. The Photo League thrived as one of the most progressive, dynamic and creative centers for photography in America, and was unusual in its time as many of the collective’s members were women.

In the 1940s when McCarthyism started gathering momentum in the US, suspicious authorities decided to clamp down on the Photo League’s confrontational and uncensored representations of urban American society. In 1948, it was declared a subversive organization and blacklisted. As the league’s secretary at the time, Sonia Handelman Meyer answered the office phone when requests for comment about the accusations poured in from the media. “It got to be too much,” she told The New York Times. “They were blacklisting people”.

Both photographer’s work went unrecognized for decades. In recent years, there has been a revived interest in the radical collective that contributed incomparably towards promoting early street photography as an art form.

Sonia Handelman was born on Feb. 12, 1920, in Lakewood, N.J., and grew up in New York City. Her parents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. After graduating college in 1941, Handelman Meyer worked during World War II in the Office of War Information for the U.S. Signal Corps in Puerto Rico, and the Office of War Information in New York, and then at a news photography agency. In 1943 she joined the Photo League, where she studied with John Ebstel and Sid Grossman. She also served as secretary (the only paid position at the League) and, in 1948-50, as chair of the Hine Committee. Sonia Handelman Meyer died on September 11, 2022, at her home in Charlotte, N.C., at age 102.

The daughter of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Ida Wyman was born March 7, 1926 in Malden, Massachusetts. The family soon moved to New York, where her parents bought her a box camera when she was 14, She joined the camera club at Walton High School, honing her skills at taking and printing pictures. By the time Wyman was 16, she knew that she wanted to work as a photographer. Opportunities then were few for women photographers, but in 1943 Wyman joined Acme Newspictures as a mail room ‘boy’; pulling prints and captioning them for clients. At lunch hour, she photographed nearby laborers and office workers with her Graflex Speed Graphic camera. When the war ended, Acme’s only female printer was fired so a man could have her job. Wyman set out on her own to begin free-lance work for magazines, and her first photo story was published in LOOK magazine the same year. She joined the Photo League which further inspired her to produce honest photographs that could effect social change. By 1948 she was in Los Angeles, working on assignments for LIFE magazine. She would eventually cover over 100 assignments for LIFE. For the next several years, Wyman covered assignments for Fortune, Saturday Evening Post, Parade, and many other leading publications of the time.


Sonia Handelman Meyer and Ida Wyman
Two Pioneering Women of The Photo League
Until June 18, 2023
Monroe Gallery of Photography
112 Don Gaspar, Santa Fe, NM

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