Lapow was an award-winning New York City package designer when he was
given a camera for his 43rd birthday. The year was 1952. From then until
his death three decades later, he saw the world through a view-finder,
finding beauty in what could have been deemed grotesque, seeing form where
others noticed only function.
Born in Newark, New Jersey February 6, 1909, Lapow began taking art classes in high school. After graduation he moved to New York City and worked for Martin Ullman, a pioneer in the field of package design. For a decade Lapow worked with Ullman, and then, in 1941, formed a partnership with Ben Koodin, a fellow designer, and they opened Koodin-Lapow. The firm handled major packaging projects for R. H. Macys, Wamsutta Mills, Seagrams, and Rokeach, among others. Excellent at spotting talent, they hired young Cooper Union graduates as apprentices, including illustrators and designers Milton Glaser, Seymour Chwast and Edward Sorel.
While Lapow continued in package design until he retired at age 65, his passion became photography. He took courses with Lisette Model at the New School for Social Research, and, together with his good friend, Leon Levinstein, studied photography with Sid Grossman. He also studied painting with Evsa Model. Lapow began to spend his Sundays on the prowl, trading in the business suit of an executive for jeans and sneakers, walking the streets of New York, two cameras hung around his neck, searching, seeking, shooting.
On one of his first outings, Lapow came across an Italian wedding on the beach in Coney Island, taking a photograph that was later selected by Edward Steichen for the Museum of Modern Arts Family of Man exhibition. He traveled widely, always bringing his cameras. Lapow shot in small fishing villages in Nova Scotia, farming and fishing communities in the Gaspé Peninsula of Québec, a Crow Indian reservation in Montana, the Magdelan Islands, Prince Edward Island, and later, in Morocco, Sardinia, and Italy.
Despite an itch to uncover new places and things, Lapow was an unmitigated, unrepentant New Yorker. He worshipped the city and its quirks, delighting in parades, both those organized for holidays-particularly the Easter Parade but also ceaselessly intrigued by the diverse and quotidian stream of humanity that passed on the grimy streets. Perhaps first and best, Lapow loved Coney Island, returning frequently over the thirty years of his career as a photographer, walking the beach and boardwalk, stealing glances, taking shots.
Lapow's photographs were first exhibited in 1959 when Helen Gee gave him a solo show at her Limelight Gallery in Greenwich Village; he also showed in group exhibitions at A Photographer's Gallery, New York, The International Photographic Exhibition, Washington, DC, Photokina, Cologne, Germany, New York Vu Par Cultural Center, Paris, France, and Man and His World, Expo 67, Montreal, Canada. In 1978 Dover Publications published a book of his Coney Island work, Coney Island Beach People.
When Harry Lapow died in September of 1982 he was still working. He had become an advocate for the elderly, a gray panther and made photographs showing positive aspects of aging, seeking out ordinary older people who had not retired from life. Ever vibrant, enthusiastic, opinionated, passionate, and daring, it would have never occurred to Harry Lapow to retire.