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Ken Ratner photographs

Call Number

PR 373


circa 1992, 2013-2016, inclusive


Ratner, Ken, 1953-


.1 Linear feet in one folder

Language of Materials

English .


The collection is comprised of 25 photographs by art collector and photographer Ken Ratner (1953-). All were taken in New York City, mostly in 2013-2016, and are black and white. Most emphasize light and shadow on buildings, streets, street corners, and pedestrians. Some are portraits.

Biographical / Historical

Ken Ratner, an art collector and photographer, was born in New York City in 1953 and lived in Texas and California before returning to the city in the mid-1990s. From an early age, he began to draw focusing on portraits, but later street life and the urban poor would become his primary subject matter in both his drawing and photography. He took evening sketch classes at the Art Students League in New York City in the 1980s, and would regularly study artwork and photographs in museums, galleries, and art books.

Ratner is a self-taught photographer whose principal field of interest is the urban city, particularly its derelict aspects that one often shuns, ignores, fails to notice or avoids. Yet in these out of the way places, he discovers a rich humanity in keeping with his long-time interest in the work of the Ashcan School artists from the turn of the last century. Like many of those artists (John Sloan, Jerome Myers), Ratner is similarly inspired to go into the streets to seek out an inherent beauty in commonplace subjects. He aspires to incorporate into his photographs some of the keen observations that these artists recorded. Ratner also draws inspiration from the urban scenes of photographers Berenice Abbott, Walter Rosenblum and Helen Levitt.

"In photographing street scenes, black and white is my medium of choice. The medium allows for clearly defined and dramatic effects, and is well suited for emphasizing light and shadow. Balance is a critical aspect. One of the first things I do is to look at the four corners of a picture. It's vital to me that a picture be properly balanced. I concentrate on capturing scenes of the lower class and their environment. I find that these residents tend to reveal themselves in a more natural way than those living in affluent sections. Above all, it is my hope that people viewing my photographs will find them interesting and humanistic. I have tried to express this in my work."

(The above note was taken from a biographical note on the website of The Rockwell Museum in connection with an exhibition of Western Art from Ratner's collection.)


The collection is arranged in chronological order.

Scope and Contents

The collection is comprised of 25 black and white photographs taken by photographer Ken Ratner. The photographs vary somewhat in size, but are in the area of 12 x 8 inches. All of the photographs were taken in New York City.

Most of the photographs capture the play of light and shadows on buildings, streets and steet corners. Pedestrians, either single or in small groups, appear in several photographs, sometimes casting shadows of their own on the city streets. Some of the photographs are portraits, including one of a resident in a homeless shelter, which Ratner referred to as one of his strongest in an email with the donation to N-YHS.

All the photographs were titled, dated and signed by Ratner on the back. All the titles are noted in the container list.

Conditions Governing Access

Open to qualified researchers. Available by advance appointment only. To schedule an appointment, contact the Print Room Librarian at

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to reproduce any Print Room holdings through publication must be obtained from: Rights and Reproductions, The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024. Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 270. Fax: (212) 579-8794.

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as the Ken Ratner photographs, PR 373, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, The New-York Historical Society.

Credit line: Gift of Ken Ratner in loving memory of his older brother, Robert Ratner.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Ken Ratner, 2015-2016.

Collection processed by

Larry Weimer

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-21 15:47:31 -0400.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: Finding aid written in English.

Processing Information

Photographs received from Ken Ratner in 2015 were initially placed in early 2016 in the Photographer's File (PR 50), an N-YHS collection of work by various photographers. In connection with the later receipt of additional photographs, a curatorial choice was made to remove the Ratner photographs from the Photographers File and catalog them as a discrete collection. This was done in November 2018 by archivist Larry Weimer.


New-York Historical Society
New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024