Arthur Leipzig, an award-winning photographer whose lens captured the "human face of New York" -- from children playing on the city's streets to a window washer 80 floors up outside the Empire State Building -- died Friday at his Sea Cliff home after a long illness. He was 96.
Leipzig, who also captured memorable images of people around the globe, began working as a photographer in the early 1940s after an accident in a glass factory injured one of his hands. It was among several jobs he got after dropping out of Erasmus Hall High School when he was 17, according to newspaper accounts.
He told Newsday in 2005 that a friend suggested he take a photography class. It was 1942 and the course at the Photo League cost $6. Reports said he got a $3 scholarship.
"I walked into class, and I knew this was what I wanted to do with my life. It was love at first sight," Leipzig said then.
His decades-long career was multifaceted. It included his famed series of children at play in New York City, coal miners in Appalachia, a Bedouin in the Negev Desert in Israel, a storm-tossed fishing boat in the North Atlantic, and his own sleeping daughter in Levittown, just to name a handful.
His wife of 72 years, Mildred "Mimi" Leipzig, said Monday that, even in illness, photography was on his mind.
"Even when he was in a very bad state, he would wake up in the morning and say he had to get the cameras ready," she said.
Leipzig began work as a staff photographer for the illustrated newspaper PM from 1942 to 1946, becoming one of New York City's early street photographers. He concentrated on children and their street games.
"I've always found it fascinating to observe kids," he told Newsday. "They make a playground wherever they go."
Leipzig's 1943 photograph "King of the Hill," showing two boys facing off on a mound of dirt, was included in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's celebrated "Family of Man" exhibition of 1955.
His work appeared in many other museum exhibitions over the years. Among his honors, Leipzig received the prestigious Lucie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Fine Art Photography in 2004.
He freelanced for a number of publications and also taught at Long Island University's C.W. Post Campus, now called LIU Post. He established the college's undergraduate and graduate programs in photography and taught at the campus from 1968 to 1990.
"I've gotten so many calls from people saying, 'He changed my life,' " Leipzig's wife said of his former students.
Joan Harrison, a professor of art at LIU Post who studied with Leipzig as a student there in 1969, said what stood out in his photography was his "tremendous caring about humanity. It's certainly reflected in his work and it's more than reflected in his teaching."
Stuart Fishelson, professor of media arts at LIU Brooklyn, also studied under Leipzig at Post and later worked with him on the book "On Assignment," a collection of Leipzig's photos.
"He was a giver," Fishelson said. "Whatever he did he always wanted to share it."
In addition to his wife, Leipzig is survived by his daughter, Judy Leipzig of Hastings-on-Hudson; son, Joel Leipzig of Cary, North Carolina; and three grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
A memorial service is to be held at a later date.