(b Ribe, Denmark, May 3, 1849; d Barre, MA, May 26, 1914).
American photographer of Danish birth. The son of a school teacher and editor, he was well-educated when he came to the USA in 1870. He was a self-taught photographer and worked at a variety of jobs before becoming a journalist, and he understood the power of the written and illustrated word. Riis’s work in journalism began in 1873 when he was employed by the New York News Association. By 1874 he was editor and then owner of the South Brooklyn News. In 1878 he won a coveted job as a police reporter at the Tribune and found the basis of his life’s work in his assigned territory, Mulberry Bend, where the worst slums and tenements were (e.g. Mulberry Bend as It Was, see Riis, 1901, p. 265).
Using flash photographs to document articles and lectures, Riis emphasized the dehumanizing conditions of New York’s slums with works such as Tenement House Air-shaft...