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Helen M. Stummer
Metuchen, NJ

Artwork Details

16" x 24"

For over twenty-five years as a Visual Sociologist, Helen M. Stummer has been photographing the struggles and dignity of poor people in Newark, NJ, the Lower East Side of Manhattan, rural Maine, and in Comalapa, Guatemala.  She photographs in the tradition of Jacob Riis, Lewis Hine and Dorothea Lange, who dynamically and passionately photographed impoverished immigrants, child labor, and migrant workers from the 1800's through the 1950's.

Stummer is the author of No Easy Walk, Newark: 1980-1993, published by Temple University Press. The book depicts the suburbanites' journey into the impoverished inner city, records her interaction with the residents, and celebrates the human spirit as well as the despair. Because of her decades of being involved with urban families, Stummer is unique among American photographers. Her commitment has allowed her to depict children growing up. From babies to young adults, she captures their spirit, their hopes, as well as their disappointments and tragedies.

“My effort is to go beyond the illustrative, to experience the emotion, the intimacy of the moment. I have come to realize that in order to capture the essence of this moment, to create, to give birth to an image, to combine the intricate qualities of light, expression and composition, my entire emotional and spiritual complexities are called into action. When the elements of art and truth come together, for a short-lived moment I am immersed in ecstasy. Delighted in capturing a true-to-life impression of what I see. I am transformed. I need to repeat the process, to continue the search to connect, to create.  As an artist, I express myself by illuminating the darkness. I also search for the hidden light in darkened places, beauty immersed in ugliness, clarity in chaos. As I attempt to record the harsh reality of ghetto life, I witness children with the light of innocence, hope and trust in their eyes, that in only a few short years is dimmed and then crushed, leaving only the darkness of fear, anger, mistrust and apathy.”

A sociologist as well as an artist, Stummer has exhibited and lectured extensively. Her photograph, Sharell Showing Easter Dress to Grandmother, has been included in the Oxford History of Art: American Photography, published by Oxford University Press in 2003.  She has also received numerous grants and awards from such organizations as the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the New Jersey Historical Commission, the Mid-Atlantic Foundation for the Arts, and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts (for a 1994, 1995, and 2003 fellowship).

Stummer's photographs are in the permanent collection of the Library of Congress, the Brooklyn Museum, the Newark Museum, the Newark Library, the Museum of the City of New York, the Jersey City Museum, the New Jersey Historical Society, the New York Historical Society, the Center For Photography at Woodstock, NY, the Child Welfare League of America in Washington, D.C., and in numerous private collections.