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Portrait of Stephen Somerstein
3D rendering of the James Webb Space Telescope, showing primary mirror and multi-layered sun shield

James Webb Space Telescope

Stephen Somerstein (b. 1941, New York City) – is a documentary photographer and former physicist whose vision has been shaped by the complexity and richness of the urban-cultural landscape. His work spans a continuous thread from the 1960's (i.e., Greenwich Village cultural scene, Berkeley anti-war movement, civil rights, Harlem, Manhattan, on to the present, covering cultural, social and political subjects. Whether pursuing the "decisive moment" evinced by Cartier-Bresson or the ideal composition of W. Eugene Smith, he seeks to imbue each image with a sense of time, place, humanity, grace and dignity.

In 1965, with the rise in public consciousness of the urgency and importance of the civil and voting rights movements in the South and Dr. Martin Luther King's pursuit of equal opportunity and voting rights, as Editor-in-Chief and Photo-Editor of the City College of New York evening newspaper MAIN EVENTS, Steve journeyed to Alabama to cover the Selma to Montgomery civil rights march. His Selma work evinces a concern with both the civil rights leaders and the marchers as individuals, but also the local black residents – those people who will be most strongly affected by the opportunities sought by the civil rights movement.

In 2014 he received a New York Emmy Award for his video about the 1965 Selma March.

During his wide-ranging career in physics he has built space satellites at the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and Lockheed Martin, as well as pioneering work in nuclear fusion. His last satellite instrument is on the James Webb Space Telescope. Now retired from physics, he has returned full-time to photography. A body of his 1965 Selma March images are in the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History, and in the permanent collection of the New-York Historical Society.

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