"Studying with Ben Lifson has dramatically reshaped my
understanding of art and of myself as an artist. It has changed my
photography and my life."
- Sean Reid,
former and current student
just one month of studying photography with Ben, I saw a dramatic
improvement in my understanding of art in general, and in the quality of my
own photographs in particular. Ben is one of the best teachers I have met. I
myself am a university professor, and have taught at a major U.S. university
for more than fifteen years, so I can appreciate the teaching approach
adopted by Ben. Ben puts all his energy and passion into teaching. With Ben
you do not just learn to appreciate photography, you also learn to appreciate
music, poetry and painting. You realize that ultimately all forms of art
share the same core concerns and your approach towards photography changes forever."
- Furrukh Khan,
Ben Lifson studied photography at North Carolina
Central University, 1964-65, and film making at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in 1965,
while on leave from graduate studies in English, Yale. Back at Yale, 1965-67, he
studied with Yale photography professor John T. Hill, and met occasionally with Walker Evans. In 1967 he enrolled in
the Alexi Brodovich Design Workshop of Manhattan's School for the Visual Arts, where he studied with
photographers Bob Adelman, David Attie and Ben Fernandez.
His professional career began in 1965 with production photographs for Yale ‘s graduate theater
department, and for New Haven's nationally distinguished Long Wharf Theater. In 1966 he worked as
John Hill's assistant (architectural and still life photography). In 1967 he moved to Boston and began
photographing for himself as an artist and supporting himself largely as
a free-lance photojournalist with commissions from and/or sales to national magazines like New York,
Ramparts, and Look, corporate magazines like IBM's Think, university alumni magazines, educational
organizations, the Mayor's Office, Boston, the Public Broadcasting System, and documentary film makers.
80-print portrait study of Boston's Italian neighborhood, the North End, was featured as a large
mural exhibition at Boston City Hall in 1969. He worked for several months in Manhattan, 1969, as
assistant and darkroom manager to photojournalist Bob Adelman, until later that year he joined The Boston
Studio Coalition, a group of young independent painters, sculptors, and photographers, and
concentrated more on his art. He was a featured exhibitor in the Studio Coaltion's 1970 city-wide
exhibition organized by Boston Institute of Contemporary Art.
He continued to exhibit ambitiously until 1979, with solo exhibitions at MIT's Creative Photography Gallery
(Minor White, Director), the International Museum of Photography, George Eastman House, and the Grossmont
College (CA) Contemporary Photography Exhibition Series (other solo exhibitors: Garry Winogrand, Henry
Wessel, Jr.), and group exhibitions at the National Museum of American Art (Smithsonian), the Edinburgh
International Festival (with Harry Callahan, Bill Dane and Tod Papageorge), the Akron (OH) Museum (with
painters Lucas Samaras and Alice Neal; John Coplans, Director), the Oakland (CA) Museum, the Minneapolis
He is represented in the collections of the International Museum of Photography, George
Eastman House, the National Museum of American Art, and the Minneapolis Art Institute.
The International Center for Photography's Encyclopedia of Photography names Ben Lifson
as one of the most important photography critics of the 1970s-1980s.
Lifson's criticism began in 1977, when New York's Village Voice invited
him to become their photography writer. Five years and over 150 critical articles
later he left the Voice having published on almost every major, and many minor, photographers, and
historical and modern movements and then contemporary trends, 1835-1982.
Independent of theory, favoring no style or school, he has written positive appreciations
of works from "straight" and "documentary" photography and photojournalism through post-modernism and beyond,
and of such dissimilar modern and contemporary photographers as Laurie Anderson, John
Coplans, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, Frank Gohlke, Jan Groover,
Robert Mapplethorpe, Lucas Samaras, Cindy Sherman, W. Eugene Smith, Weegee, and Garry Winogrand.
He has also written on photography for Art in America, Artforum,
Art News, Art on Paper, Artpresse
(Paris), Connaissance des Arts (Paris), Museum
Magazine, October, Portfolio Magazine, and many other US and
European journals. He has published a monograph on the photography of Lucas Samaras, and written prefaces,
afterwords and essays for monographs and museum and gallery catalogs on Laurie Anderson, Eugene
Atget, John Coplans, Marjorie Content, Dave Heath, Frank Gohlke, Andre Kertesz, W. Eugene Smith, Paul Strand,
and Garry Winogrand, and to Wendy Ewald's Portraits and Dreams, a collection of photographs by Appalachian
children taught by Ewald.
Since 1980, Lifson has
collaborated with several photographers, curators and museums on
important projects. With Andre Kertesz he worked on, and wrote the
script for, a PBS documentary on Kertesz' life and work. He worked
with Garry Winogrand on the picture selection for both Winogrand's
book Stock Photographs and his Los Angeles portfolio, and
with Frank Gohlke on the picture selection and sequencing for his
Chicago Museum of Contemporary Photography retrospective
exhibition and catalog. From 1982 to 1984 he directed the Sol
Mednick Photography Gallery of the University of the Arts,
Philadelphia, exhibiting Larry Clark, Frank Gohlke, Andre Kertesz,
Hope Sandrow, Garry Winogrand, and, in conjunction with the
Philadelphia Museum, selections from the Miller-Plummer
Photography Collection. In 1987-88, he worked with Daniel Wolf and
Mike Weaver on picture selection and other aspects of their
exhibition for the Royal Academy of Arts, London and the Museum of
Fine Arts, Houston, "The Art of Photography"
(1989), celebrating photography's 150th anniversary, and
contributed three essays to the catalog. In 1988, as Guest Scholar
and Consultant to the Photography Collection, J. Paul Getty
Museum, California, he created the exhibition "Images That
Yet Fresh Images Beget: The Photography of Works of Art".
In 1991 he participated in the picture sequencing, and contributed
the critical essay to the catalog, Nineteenth and Twentieth
Century Photographs from the Quillan Collection. Most recently, he
wrote the script for Sedat Pakay's 50-minute PBS documentary, Walker
taught the history of photography everywhere he has taught
photography, and was special lecturer in the subject in the art
history department, Yale. He has lectured to the general public on
individual photographers and on the history of photography at many
universities, musuems, galleries, including the Akron University,
the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Bezalel Academy of Arts
and Design (Jerusalem), the Harvard, IBM Gallery (New York) the
International Center for Photography, the Israel Museum, the J.
Paul Getty Museum, the Minneapolis Art Institute, the Museum of
Fine Arts, Houston, the North Carolina Museum, Queen's College
(NY), the Rhode Island School of Design, the Shirley Burden
Gallery (Aperture, NY), the St. Louis Museum, the Toledo Museum,
the University of the Arts, Philadelphia, the University of
California, Berkeley, the University of Rochester, the Virginia
Museum, and Yale University.
He has written criticism of painting and sculpture for Artforum, and is currently writing a critical history
of photography, 1835-1985, which is currently being considered for publication by
Yale University Press, London.
Lifson began teaching in private workshops, Cambridge,
MA, 1969. In 1970 he founded and led the photography program at the California Institute of the Arts
(Valencia). In June, 1974, he left full-time teaching in order to devote more time to his photography. Since
then he has taught at the University of California, San Diego (1975), Harvard University (1976-77),
Fordham University (Lincoln Center, 1978-80), Yale Graduate School (1981-1982),
University of the Arts, Philadelphia (1982-1984), City College of New York
(1985-86), Bard College (1984-1988), Yale Graduate School (1986; 1987); and at New York's International
Center for Photography (ICP) 1997-1999. In 1985 he established the photography program of Bard's Milton
Avery Graduate School of Fine Art, and was its sole teacher through 1987. He has led workshops and
portfolio reviews at Yale, the Rhode Island School of Design, Rhode Island College, the Second Israel
International Photography Bienalle, and the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design,