||Sam Reiss (1910-1975)
was often referred to as "Labor's Photographer." He photographed
almost every significant New York City labor event from
the 1930s through the mid-1970s. While working in the
garment industry in the early 1930s Reiss began taking
photography courses at the Brooklyn Museum and was soon
taking pictures of his fellow workers. When his shop went
out on strike in 1946, he became a full- time photographer.
His first client was the Retail, Wholesale, and Department
Workers Union. He than began working for the labor press
in New York City while doing freelance work for a number
of unions including the Amalgamated Clothing Workers,
the United Federation of Teachers, the Central Labor Council,
and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
Some of his images have achieved iconic status. His 1955
shot of Walter Reuther and George Meany jointly slamming
down the gavel at the merger of the AFL and CIO has became
a symbol of one of the great moments in labor history.
In 1968 Reiss went to Memphis, Tennessee to take photographs
of striking sanitation workers. He snapped the indelible
photograph of workers holding signs declaring: "I am a
Man." It is believed that it was this photograph that
brought Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. to Memphis where
he was assassinated.
Reiss' photographs of people actually on the job are revealing, for the vast majority of labor photographs document special events, not daily life. Here we include Reiss images of iron workers, garment workers, and laundry workers on the job; Eleanor Roosevelt meeting with trade union women; and Cesar Chavez at a farmworker rally in New York City.