Joseph Schwartz
Folk Photographer (1913-2013)

Schwartz's f
amous collection of photographs documented the plight of the “have-nots” of America and the potential for interracial harmony from the 1930s to the 1980s.

Much of this collection will be part of the first and permanent exhibit in the new Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History and Culture presently under construction in Washington, DC and scheduled to open in 2015.

Joe Schwartz’s book, “Folk Photography—Poem’s I’ve Never Written” and litho prints depict this famous collection representing an important slice of Americana. The book and litho prints are available here in our online store.

The Photo League's Film, "Ordinary Miracles" featuring Joe Schwartz and his work is available for purchase on the Photo League's website:

Topics include:

- Integration and Diversity

- Photo League photography from the 1930's-1940's

- Ordinary people and the “have-nots” of America

- Jazz Celebrities

- The Depression Era

- World War II/Iwo Jima Combat

- Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant Neighborhood 

- Poverty in Brooklyn, New York City, Los Angeles, California, and elsewhere

- Interracial harmony

Current Display: Hush Harbor Artisan Bakery and Cafe; 5735 El Camino Real, Atascadero, California
April-June 2013: Honoring Joe Schwartz (1913-2013) at Mama Ganache Chocolates 1445 Monterey St. SLO, CA. Folk Photography book still available for purchase.
February 12-15, 2013:
Celebrates their
Centennial "100 meets 100 - Atascadero, California the home of one of the most celebrated Folk Photographers in the nation, Joe Schwartz.". Atascadero and Joe Schwartz are turning 100 in 2013. February 13th - Reception honoring Joe Schwartz; photographic exhibit, presentations, music, and appetizers at Atascadero City Hall. 
January- February 2013: Linnaea's Cafe - San Luis Obispo, California
2012-2013 Tour:  "The Radical Camera; New York's Photo League 1936-1951"
  • Norton Museum of Art, Palm Beach Florida (Upcoming Exhibit:March 14, 2013 - June 16, 2013)
  • The Contemporary Jewish Museum - San Francisco, California
  • Columbus Museum of Art - Columbus, Ohio
  • The Jewish Museum - New York City, New York
2012- September 2013: Fig Good Food - Atascadero, California
2012- September 2013 Olive Tree Gallery - Atascadero, California
2012- May 2013: Envisions Gallery - Atascadero, California
2012 Top Dog Cafe - Morro Bay, California
2012 Joebella Coffee Roasters, Templeton, CA
2012 Cal Poly State University Kennedy Library - San Luis Obispo, California

2010 Red Tree Gallery - Atascadero, California
2008 Black & White Gallery - Atascadero, California
2007 Santa Barbara Museum of Art "A Black and White View" - Santa Barbara, California
Steynberg Gallery - San Luis Obispo, California
 San Luis Obispo Art Center "Joe Schwartz at Home" - San Luis Obispo, California
Indiana Historical Society - Indianapolis, Indiana
Skirball Musem of Art - Los Angeles, California
University Concourse Gallery, University of Tennesse - Knoxville, Tennesse
Public Library of Charlotte, Mecklenberg County - Charlotte, North Carolina
Missouri Historical Society - St Louis, Missouri
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute - Birmingham, Alabama
Harn Museum of Art, University of Florida - Coral Gables, Florida
San Francisco Photo Show - San Francisco, California
Louisiana State University Union Art Gallery - Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Picker Gallery at Colgate University - Hamilton, New York
Cohen Gallery - Los Angeles, California
Shapiro Gallery - San Francisco, California
Daiter Gallery - Chicago, Illinois
Cohen Gallery - Los Angeles, California
Karpeleles Museum - Santa Barbara, California
Pepperdine University - Malibu, California
One Man Show - Titled “Poems I’ve Never Written” - Wadsworth Atheneum - Celebrating Black History Month. Hartford, CT
One Man Show - Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, CA
Amistad Museum - Mystic Seaport, Connecticut
11th Annual Artists Salute to Black History Month - Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza - L.A., CA
“Photo League-Exhibit” Boston College Art Gallery -Group showing in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts
“Photo League” Group show at Guild Hall Museum, East Hampton, N.Y.
Annual Art Benefit Dinner & Auction - Painters and Photographers. Museum of African American Art
“Joe Schwartz. Peoples' Photographer” celebrating Black History Month in Atascadero, Calif. (Library)
“Time of Your Life” - Los Angeles Convention Center
“The Photo League. 1936-1951” Gallery Association of New York State -2 year tour thru New York State
“The Peoples' Photographer” - Museum of African American Art - L.A.
Permanent Exhibit - “Westside Independent Services For The Elderly” Santa Monica, California
The Galarie - Combo - Painter and Photographer -“Folk Art”, Venice, CA
Leigh Yeakey Woodsen Museum of Art - “Photographic Crossroads: The Photo League” group show
“Folk Photographer. Joe Schwartz” Clark Humanities Museum -Scripps College, Claremont, California
University of Iowa Museum of Art - “Photo League” group show
“Photographic Crossroads: The Photo League” - Group show National Gallery of Canada
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston - “Photographic Crossroads: The Photo League” , Group show in Houston. Texas
“Artistic Reflections on Black History” sponsored by Los Angeles High School Art Dept.. Los Angeles, CA
“I Remember” presented by Black Studies Center Claremont College, Clark Humanities Museum, Claremont, CA
“I Remember” - One Man Show. The Gallery. Los Angeles, CA
“For Sale” benefit for Southern Conference Educational Fund
“Group Arts Show” Westwood Art Association, CA
“Photography - As Eye See It”, Westside Jewish Community Center, L.A., CA
"One Man Show, Joe Schwartz” Fullerton College. Anaheim. CA
“The Canvas And The Camera” 2 painters - 2 photographers, Downey Museum of Art - Downey, CA
“1 -2 -3 -For The Show” Painter, Sculptor and Photographer -Los Angeles Museum of Art - Barnsdall Park
“Retro”Veterans Hospital - Brentwood, California 
1963 "Love Story of a Photographer" 
Synanon House, Santa Monica, CA
 "I Remember” - RetrospectiveSanta Monica High School, Santa Monica, CA
Douglas Aircraft - National Group Exhibit. Awarded lst place by Lionel Barrymore, judge
"Photo Retrospective, Joe Schwartz" lst Unitarian Church, Los Angeles, Calif. Dr. Steve Fritchman, minister
Los Angeles Photo League - Helped organize Group Showing and Critique by Weegee
Kingsboro Housing Project - "Community League of Kingsboro Activities", Brooklyn, N.Y.
1 day exhibit "Fight for Playgrounds" Harlem school basketball court
Photo League group showing and critique
Born in the Williamsburgh section of Brooklyn, New York, Joe grew up in the poverty of the Brooklyn slums. His parents, Rose Mandel and Samuel Schwartz, were immigrants from Poland and Romania. From 1929-1933 he attended Alexander Hamilton High School, where he concentrated on commercial art, and began experimenting with an inexpensive camera. Soon after he became an activist, engaged in street politics, and became interested in proving the high value of the "have-nots". He knew that his life's work would be in photography, depicting the condition of the poor and downtrodden. After a short stint at the Pratt Institute where he learned the fundamentals of art composition, he attained a job at Haloid Paper Co. where he learned lithography.
In 1936 his friend Dave Robbins led him to join the Photo League. He and the legendary Photo League (Sid Grossman was President and Eugene Smith, Dorthea Lange, and Margaret Bourke-White were among the members) shared a commitment to portraying the lives of America's working people in their urban environment, and these commitments often extended to the realistic portrayal of African-Americans as well. Joe wanted to illustrate the truth through his photography. He let his camera speak for him to show the social and economic injustice of the times. 
In 1939 Joe married modern dancer, Anne Palley. 
In 1943 he joined the Marine Corps on the staff of Leatherneck Magazine, where he served in the 5th Division as a combat photographer on Iwo Jima from D-day until the end of the campaign. During his enlistment, his wartime photos were used in Bell Telephone's advertisements, the Iwo Jima edition of 5th Division "Spearhead" magazine, and in the weekly publication of "International Events", before being honorably discharged from San Leandro Hospital. 
In 1946, Joe moved his family into the Kingsboro housing Project; a well- integrated block of apartments in Brooklyn where he was elected president of the tenets union, continuing his political activism. 
In 1953 Joe graduated from Fred Archer's School of Photography under the G.I. Bill. Through the 1960's and 1970's he worked for Western Litho Co., Clement's, Pacific Press, Synanon House (photographic section) and started his own business entitled "Magic Color." Through the 1970's and 1980's Joe's work was featured in publications such as: Photographic Quarterly, KPFK FOLIO, Independent Publishing Fund of the Americas, Claremont, California Newspaper "Courier", Catalogue "The Photo League", Aperture Magazine and book "Jacob Lawrence, Paintings and Sculpture". In 1990 Joe began working on his book, Folk Photography - "Poem's I've Never Written" (contains 150 photos, 213 pages) and in 2000 he set up a digital in-home studio and published the long-awaited book.
In 1985 Joe moved to Atascadero, California in order to be closer to his daughter Paula Motlo's growing family, Grandchildren Damian Motlo and Sheena Motlo. 
In 1990 Joe began working on his book, Folk Photography - "Poem's I've Never Written" (contains over 300 photos; 213 pages) and in 2000 he set up a digital in-home studio and published the long-awaited book. 
On March 16, 2013, at 99 years old, Joe passed away in Atascadero, California. 
He has been recognized worldwide for his astonishing ability to capture interracial harmony. A collection of Joe's work will soon reside in The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Smithsonian's 19th museum which will open on the National Mall in Washington DC in 2015. Joe was interviewed by the Smithsonian as a part of the Archives of the American Art's Oral History Interviews of American Photographers Project which started in 1958 to document the history of visual arts in the United States.

Recent honors include:
  • Lifetime commitment to diversity on February 6, 2012 at California Polytechnic State University's Colloquium; "Celebrating Diversity" 
    • Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from the U.S. House of Representatives (Lois Capps).
  • Atascadero's Centennial Celebration, Schwartz was honored by the city on what would have been his 100th year 
    • Commendation Award from the Colony of Atascadero, California honoring him as a Legendary Folk Photographer and Atascadero resident.
    • Resolution Award from the California Legislature honoring him as a Legendary Folk Photographer and famous Atascadero citizen.
    • Resolution Award from the County of San Luis Obispo, California honoring him as a Legendary Folk Photographer, and a beloved and respected citizen of Atascadero.
Joe Schwartz was an artist who sought to capture the humanity within us so that we might see and appreciate the humanity in ourselves and in others. Joe asked, "Why can't we all get along?" His answer was, "We can."

Media Links:

KSBY - Video "Central Coast Remembering Joe Schwartz"
VIDEO: The Central Coast is remembering Joe Schwartz

Daily Mustang - "Cal Poly, SLO 'Celebrating Diversity'

The Tribune -  "Times Past: Joe Schwartz Lets His Photos Do The Talking"

Atascadero News "City's Centennial Celebration Begins"

KCET "A Camera with a Conscience: Documenting Diversity in America"

The S.L.O. Tribune  “Fundraiser for Cal Poly to bring photo cooperative’s story into focus”

Atascadero Chamber of Commerce Business Reporter: New From the City "Atascadero & Schwartz Turn 100" + "Centennial Festivities Begin in February"

Smithsonian PSA - "Get Involved with NMAAHC"

Photo League's "Oridinary Miracles" Documentary Preview

Atascadero Centennial - Joe Schwartz: Celebrating 100 Years of Achievement

San Luis Obispo Tribune - Times Past: Joe Schwartz of Atascadero captured images of history

San Luis Obispo Tribune - Times Past: Joe Schwartz lets his photos do all the talking

The Jewish Muesum - The Radical Camera

Time Magazine - The Radical Camera

KSBY - Smithsonian

The New York Photo Review

Luminous Lint

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