Sy Rubin, photographer and former director of the Midtown Y Photography Gallery in New York City, died in New York on February 11, 2002, of complications from leukemia.
Sy participated in Light Work's Artist-in-Residence program in 1983. During his residency he made photographs at the New York State Fair, and in 1984 the State Fair Museum featured his photographs of the fair in an exhibition titled Coming of Age which contrasted his photographs with pictures from the state fair's archive. Sy loved the fair and he came back to visit and make new photographs nearly every year during the ten to twelve day run of the fair at the end of summer.
Although he grew up in New York City and honed his photography skills on the streets of the city in the mold of Garry Winogrand and Diane Arbus, two early teachers and mentors, Sy loved small town America. He welcomed every opportunity to take his Dodge Dart out on the road to photograph flea markets, county fairs, and especially minor league baseball in small towns all over the country. Several years back he took a trip to the Northwest and planned each day around a visit to a different minor league field. He had a passion for minor league baseball and its unpretentious atmosphere and cheap seats that could be had at games between teams like the Eugene Emeralds and the Yakima Bears. In minor league baseball Sy could appreciate that the players played for the love of the game; he felt that their drive was true and authentic, which were qualities he always looked to include in his own actions and passions.
From 1956 to 1977 Sy worked as a retail bookseller, marketing director, and editor. He created several New York City bookstores including the chain Bookmasters and the legendary Coliseum Books which recently closed after a twenty-seven year run. From 1977 to 1979 he was the director of the Midtown Y Photog-raphy Gallery where he exhibited the work of emerging and under-recognized photographers. In 1982 Matrix Publishing released a book of photographs titled 14th Street that he co-authored with Larry Siegel, the first director of the Midtown Y Photography Gallery. This document of the longest street in New York City running from river to river is Sy and Larry's version of the heart of the city filled with the hustle of local commerce, colorful characters, and activity as diverse as it gets.
Sy was a champion of the underdog, and in a way he was an underdog himself. True documentary photographers had a difficult time finding outlets for their work as postmodernism brought new ideas and methods to art photography in the 1980s and 1990s, and Sy didn't escape that squeeze play. Sy found outlets for his work occasionally in the New York Times and the Daily News and his work was included in group exhibitions in more traditional art venues including the Bronx Museum of the Arts and Liberman and Saul Gallery in New York.
He never got the big book or career retrospective, but he remained a photographer's photographer, always looking forward to where his passion would take him and to what he might discover and record with his camera when he got there. We are glad that he made it to Syracuse time and time again, and we will miss his humble enthusiasm and always remember his commitment and passion, especially in the late days of summer when the state fair is in full swing.
Jeffrey Hoone 2002
We thank Michael Spano, a photographer and former director of the Midtown Y Photography Gallery, and Andrew Rubin, Sy's son, for helping us compile information for this essay.
So many photographers have photographed the streets of New York City you would think that all the picture possibilities would be exhausted. As a native New Yorker Sy Rubin has spent a good deal of time walking the streets of Americas largest city and he brings to his photographs the special understanding of one who knows the city well. For Rubin the picture possibilities on the streets of New York seem endless. The clever juxtaposition and seemingly impossible parings in his photographs underline what makes New York beautifully confusing.
Rubin published a book of photographs '14th Street', with Larry Seigel. Along with Michael Spano, Rubin directs the Emanu-el Midtown Y.M.H.A. Gallery in New York, one of the oldest artist run photography galleries in the country.
Jeffrey Hoone (c)1983