The National Nordic Museum will host the traveling exhibition Jacob A. Riis: How the Other Half Lives featuring photographs and writings by pioneering photojournalist Riis (1849-1914) and his contemporaries, February 1 through March 15, 2020. Using the newly invented flash powder for night photography, Riis documented the lives of the immigrants living in the worst slums of New York City. Through his newspaper articles, many books, and lantern slide lectures, Riis crusaded for social justice including greater tolerance of newly arrived immigrants.
Fitting with the Museum’s mission to portray the Nordic commitment to social justice, this exhibition will be accompanied by Legacy: Social Justice in Contemporary Danish Photojournalism featuring the work of three contemporary Danish photographers exploring issues of social justice in a global context. This exhibit contains selections from Lasse Bak Mejlvang’s visceral series "Air Like Poison" documenting poverty and pollution, Sofie Amalie Klougart’s award-winning "Reaching Europe" featuring a migrant “reception center” in Sicily where African refugees were welcomed with something approaching incarceration, and former social worker Magnus Cederlund’s "Skin Close" focused on homelessness in Copenhagen.
“Riis used photography to illuminate the lives of the poorest immigrants in New York City. Similar to work done today by journalists and photographers to document the lives of the homeless, refugees, and those marginalized by extreme wealth and poverty, this Danish-American advocate for immigrants inspired significant social reforms,” said Eric Nelson, CEO of the National Nordic Museum.
When Jacob A. Riis arrived in New York in 1870, he was a penniless Danish immigrant. When he died in 1914, he was a national spokesman advocating tolerance for arriving immigrants and promoting programs to address the growing urban crisis in housing, education, and public health. Today, he is best known for his first book, How the Other Half Lives, which from today's perspective is problematic.
The National Nordic Museum and the organizers of this exhibition address the racial and ethnic stereotypes in his work and the work of other social reformers of the time. This can be found in both the accompanying exhibition text as well as lectures and educational programs offered in February and March, including a February 1 lecture by art historian and Riis expert Bonnie Yochelson.