Fatherly Inheritances: Father’s Day 2021

Fishing with dad, 1953

Harold’s father reading the paper, 1946.

If you’ve seen the film Last Stop Coney Island: The Life and Photography of Harold Feinstein,  you will know that Harold’s relationship with his own father was a difficult one. Louis Feinstein suffered from alcoholism and Harold often spoke about the fear he felt around him, the beatings and druken rages.  It was a huge factor in shaping his life. But as he approached the last days of his life,  Harold began to express less angst and more fondness for both of his parents. What a blessing it is to end one’s life with a sense of resolution. Even though he could not have the conversations directly with them, somehow his aging mind was able to make choices about what to hold on to and what to release.  He remembered how his father bought him his first camera, his generosity in the synagogue, how hard he worked. When he was sober, Louis Feinstein could be a kind and generous man.

That said,  the imprint his father left on him for most of his life made him ever-mindful of how he was with his own children.  He wrote this poem to his own son, Gjon, when he was just an infant.

Harold with his son, date and photographer unknown, screen capture from the film Last Stop Coney Island.
Harold’s poem to his song, Gjon, 1965

Harold also had a daughter, Robin, who he dearly loved.  Many people who have viewed the film wonder why she didn’t appear in it. The answer is that she died of breast cancer in our home in 2000.  Her passing was a huge loss for all of us. She was an amazing, generous and kind person.   (See the post:  Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Reflections on Art, Hope and Healing dedicated to my daughter Robin Kovary).

Robin and Harold Feinstein, circa 1980, photographer unknown.

Here is a poem he wrote for her in 2008:

Thinking of you, Robin
July 10, 2008

If the words of God
were made manifest in a jewel
as beauteous as
the words themselves,
Where simply to behold
this treasure
would transform the viewer,
Where would this jewel lie
to be viewed by humanity?
Would it come down
projected from the sky?
No, it would have to be held
as an infant in one’s arms.

Throughout his life, Harold was drawn to moments of tenderness between people. That pull resulted in many iconic images of fathers with their children, including a few sweet moments with some of his close friends Sid Grossman and W. Eugene Smith.  The photo of Sid appears as the final image in the book,  The Life and Work of Sid Grossman.

Sid Grossman holding his son Adam, 1955. Harold was visiting Sid at his home in Provincetown, MA
Photographer W. Eugene Smith serves a slice of birthday cake to his daughter at the family dinner table, Croton-on-Hudson, NY, 1956.

This week in the studio, we produced two short IGTV videos  on Harold’s photographs of fathers and their children.  We hope you’ll follow us on Instagram and catch our posts there,  but I’ve posted them to our YouTube channel so that you can enjoy them below as well. The first one shares those iconic images we have as prints and the second is a peak at never-before-seen images. The negs were scanned before Harold died, but we weren’t able to get them primted before he left us.

Click on the image below to hear Harold speaking about this photograph. His words reflect one of his fundamental tenets about photographing: “You need to see people through the eyes of someone who loves them.”

Haitian father with daughter, Coney Island, 1949.

Here’s hoping you have time to honor your father today — and every day.