Above: Books and a film edited by or featuring Ben Lifson

 

 

"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

"After 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, current student

 

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.

El Paso, Texas

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. 

His 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 Art Institute. 

Los Angeles, California

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 Evans: America

He has 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, Jerusalem.