Happy Birthday, Marlis Momber

NYC has designated this as Immigrant Heritage Week, because on April 17, 1907, more immigrants entered the U.S. through Ellis Island than any other day in history. Today also happens to be the birthday of notable East Village photographer and immigrant Marlis Momber.  For these reasons and just because it’s a great read or listen, we thought we would feature today our 2015 Oral History with Marlis Momber — check it our here.

Marlis was born in Berlin in 1943, and in the interview she connects images of war-torn Germany with descriptions of the East Village and Lower East Side during the 1970s. She attributes her shift from a career in fashion photography to a career in documentary photography to experiences she had after returning to New York from Panama City. Momber began photographing murals by Maria Dominguez and the CITYarts Workshop, beginning her involvement in the East Village community. She mentions meeting her collaborator, Tyrone Jackson, with whom she later had a child. Momber also mentions Andy Warhol and briefly describes their friendship.

A photo of the Umbrella House taken by Marlis Momber in 1988. In fact, in 2008 Momber exhibited her work at a show titled “Viva Loisaida” which was held inside the Umbrella House and reviewed by the New York Times.

Momber recalls playing with her siblings in piles of rubble and throwing aluminum cans into the paths of tanks to watch them flatten. Momber also recalls the return of her father from war, a strong socialist leaning in her family, and attention to matters of social justice.

She also describes the whitewashing of the East Village, literal painting over murals (including murals by Maria Dominguez) and evidence in the community of gentrification. This second portion of the interview includes discussion of urban homesteading, surrounding areas (Stuyvesant Town, Grand Street Settlement, Seward Park), racial and gender dynamics in community spaces in the East Village (Bullet Space), and Momber’s activism as a documentarian in the East Village, photographing sensitive spaces including the police precinct, synagogue, and rallies and protests

Click here to listen to or read the entire oral history.

Read more about some of the people and immigrants who made our neighborhoods great.

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Sam Moskowitz