Ben Lifson, 1941-2013

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Polaroid of Ben Lifson, by Ande Kertesz (1981)Polaroid of Ben Lifson, by Ande Kertesz (1981)

Photographer, critic, and teacher Ben Lifson died on July 3, at the age of 72. Lifson was a prominent voice in photography criticism – the ICP’s Encyclopedia of Photography named him one of the most influential photography critics of the 1970s and ‘80s. The photography critic for the Village Voice from 1977 until 1982, he contributed articles and reviews on photography to such publications Art in America, Artforum, Art on Paper, ArtNews and October. Lifson published a monograph on the work of Lucas Samaras, and he wrote essays for books on Eugene Atget, John Coplans, Paul Strand, Andre Kertesz, and Garry Winogrand, among others. For two years, he directed the Sol Mednick Photography Gallery at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, and he organized many exhibitions as an independent curator. 

A native of Minneapolis, Lifson earned a BA from the University of Minnesota and an MA from Yale in English Literature. He also studied photography at North Carolina Central University and filmmaking at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. In 1967, he enrolled in the Alexi Brodovich Design Workshop at the School of Visual Arts, and he was a freelance photojournalist for such publications as Look, Ramparts, and New York.

Lifson’s teaching career began when he founded and led the photography program at the California Institute of the Arts in 1970, and he taught over the years at Yale, Harvard, Fordham, Bard and the International Center of Photography, among other places. 

 “There was a fantastical optimism and admiration that Ben applied to the artists he loved,” says photographer Paola Ferrario, a friend of Lifson’s. “More than a critic, he was a visionary and so many of our conversations made me the photographer I am today.”