Written By: Liz Ronk

If one had to choose a single photographer whose work would serve as a visual biography of New York City in its postwar Golden Age when Gotham became, in a sense, the capital of the world, the name Andreas Feininger would have to be in the mix. Paris-born, raised in Germany and, for a time, a cabinet-maker and architect trained in the Bauhaus, Feininger’s pictures of New York in the 1940s and ’50s helped define, for all time, not merely how a great 20th century city looked, but how it imagined itself and its place in the world. With its traffic-jammed streets, gritty waterfronts, iconic bridges and inimitable skyline, the city assumed the character of a vast, vibrant landscape.

Individual New Yorkers, meanwhile, were often an afterthought: it was form, pattern and, perhaps above all else, scale that Feininger sought. Human beings might have built this thrilling, sprawling, purposeful urban panorama, but their presence in Feininger’s pictures was not necessary; their handiwork would suffice. (In fact, in his single most famous portrait of a person, his 1955 photo of the young photographer Dennis Stock, Feininger obscures or, more accurately, replaces the human face with the clean, mechanistic contours of a camera.)

Of course, no one who worked on staff for LIFE as Feininger did for almost two decades—and 340 assignments—from 1943 until 1962, could be defined by a single topic. 

Fascinated from the time he was a young boy in Germany by the natural world, Feininger made beautiful pictures of the skeletons and bones of animals, snakes and birds, investing them with an austere power that the creatures perhaps lacked when alive and covered with flesh, fur, feathers or scales. His 1956 picture of Niagara Falls in winter, with two small human forms silhouetted against a scene, might have been lifted from the last Ice Age, while one of his most famous and most frequently reproduced photographs—Route 66 in 1947 Arizona—somehow manages to reference, in a single frame, the allure of the open road, the confluence of the man-made and natural worlds and the myth of the inexhaustible American West.

The author of more than 30 books including at least one acknowledged classic, the autobiography Andreas Feininger: Photographer (1966) Feininger’s photographs were shown in solo and group shows in places as diverse as the Museum of Natural History, the International Center of Photography, MoMa, the Whitney, the Metropolitan, the Smithsonian and in smaller galleries and exhibitions around the world. A retrospective of his six-decade career, featuring 80 of his own favorite black-and-white pictures from 1928 through 1988, toured Europe in the late 1990s.

Andreas Feininger died in Manhattan in February 1999, at the age of 92.

Photographer Dennis Stock holds a camera in front of his face, 1955.

Photographer Dennis Stock held a camera in front of his face, 1955.

Andreas Feininger/Life Pictures/Getty Images

A crescent moon rose between Manhattan skyscrapers, 1946.

A crescent moon rises between Manhattan skyscrapers, 1946.

Andreas Feininger/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Crowds fill Coney Island's beaches on the Fourth of July, Brooklyn, New York, 1949.

Crowds filled Coney Island’s beaches on the Fourth of July, Brooklyn, New York, 1949.

Andreas Feininger/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Slinky-like light pattern in the blackness of a moonlit sky produced by a time-exposure of the light-tipped rotor blades of a grounded helicopter as it takes off, 1949.

This slinky-like light pattern in the blackness of a moonlit sky was produced by a time-exposure of the light-tipped rotor blades of a helicopter as it took off, 1949.

Andreas Feininger/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Air Force training, 1944.

Air Force training, 1944.

Andreas Feininger/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Training for chemical warfare, Maryland, 1944.

Training for chemical warfare, Maryland, 1944.

Andreas Feininger/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Dramatic cumulus clouds billow above a Texaco gas station along a stretch of Route 66 in Arizona, 1947.

Route 66 in Arizona, 1947.

Andreas Feininger/Life Pictures/Getty Images

New York Harbor and midtown, looking straight down bustling 42nd Street, taken with the aid of a 40-inch Dallmeyer telephoto lens two miles away, from New Jersey, 1946.

This view of midtown Manhattan, looking straight down 42nd Street, was taken with the aid of a 40-inch Dallmeyer telephoto lens two miles away, from New Jersey, 1946.

Andreas Feininger/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Sculptress Ruth Vodicka alters the shoulder of her statue of William Tell, 1956. (She also used her tools to do welding repairs for neighbors.)

Sculptor Ruth Vodicka altered the shoulder of her statue of William Tell, 1956.

Andreas Feininger/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Studying black widow spiders, 1943.

Studying black widow spiders, 1943.

Andreas Feininger/Life Pictures/Getty Images

A macro close-up of a millipede, 1950.

Andreas Feininger/Life Pictures/Getty Images

A forest of wells, rigs and derricks crowd the Signal Hill oil fields in Long Beach, Calif., 1944.

A forest of wells, rigs and derricks crowded the Signal Hill oil fields in Long Beach, Calif., 1944.

Andreas Feininger/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Pouring ingots at an Illinois steel plant, 1944.

Pouring ingots at an Illinois steel plant, 1944.

Andreas Feininger/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Laboratory scene of how television works, showing the image of a girl being focused through a lens onto a sensitive plate as an electron beam (its path shown by glowing gases) scans it, 1944.

A laboratory scene showed how television works, with the image of a girl being focused through a lens onto a sensitive plate as an electron beam (its path shown by glowing gases) scanned it, 1944.

Andreas Feininger/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Skeleton of a 4-foot-long gaboon viper, showing 160 pairs of movable ribs, 1952.

This image of a skeleton of a four-foot-long gaboon viper showed its 160 pairs of movable ribs, 1952.

Andreas Feininger/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Skeletal structure of a bird, 1951.

Skeletal structure of a bird, 1951.

Andreas Feininger/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Niagara Falls in winter, 1956.

Niagara Falls in winter, 1956.

Andreas Feininger/Life Pictures/Getty Images

The Statue of Liberty seen during a WWII blackout, 1942.

The Statue of Liberty during a World War II blackout, 1942.

Andreas Feininger/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Doctor's head mirror, 1955.

Doctor’s head mirror, 1955.

Andreas Feininger/Life Pictures/Getty Images

View from a lodge looking up Lake Louise at Victoria Glacier, Canada, 1946.

The view from a lodge at Lake Louise, looking up at Victoria Glacier, Canada, 1946.

Andreas Feininger/Life Pictures/Getty Images

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