Leon Borensztein | American Indian, Phoenix, Ariz.


Originally from Poland, Borensztein moved from Israel to the United States in 1977 to attend graduate school at the San Francisco Art Institute. In need of income, Borensztein talked his way into a job as a portrait photographer by claiming extensive experience photographing people. In fact, he had none. As an employee of the studio, his objective, he says via email, “was to shoot as many different combinations as possible: first the entire family, then the parents (if there were both of them), the children, the family pet, etc.; so when the salesman came the following week, sometimes the unsuspecting family would find it hard to resist the larger and pricier package.”

“When I came to the U.S., I had a certain vision of America and the American Dream. But after seeing so many homes from inside, I realized that the reality was different,” said Borensztein. “It was not too long before I realized that I could take advantage of this treasure trove of material by combining my artistic goals with my commercial commitments, and I began to use two cameras: one with color film for the studio and one with black-and-white film for myself. When I was finished with the studio session, I brought out my other camera and quickly made some exposures for myself.”

Because he didn’t want the subjects to present themselves differently, he would explain after taking his pictures what the second camera was for. (He mostly used his Hasselblad for his own project, cropping the photos from square to portrait size later.) He gave them one directive, which was not to smile (with the exception of inFather With Son). Inevitably, this relaxed them to the point that the mask slipped away and Borensztein was able to portray them in a more realistic manner.