The German-born fashion/documentary photographer, Marlis Momber was born in Berlin in 1943. She studied photography in Berlin and Paris before moving to New York in 1966. Initially she worked as a fashion photographer for glossy magazines and for clients like Gucci and Elizabeth Arden, from her studio on Fifth Avenue.
In 1974 she began visiting the Lower East Side before moving there in 1975. First she documented the murals by Maria Dominguez and work of the CITYarts Workshop. She gradually moved into documenting daily life of the Loisada until the present day. While photographing the deplorable housing infrastructure, high crime rate, drug abuse, unemployment and later on gentrification, her work also captured the sense of community among the people, the development of social political movements and cultural expression.
LOISAIDA is the Spanglish name of the area between 14. and Houston Streets and Avenue A to the East River. The Belly of Manhattan)
For more then two decades, Marlis' photographs captured the struggle of the people who lived in this neighborhood withstanding urban decline, drugs, arson for profit, discrimination, displacement and administrative neglect.
“Momber began documenting the struggles that played out among residents, landlords, drug dealers and city agencies, all vying to control street corners, blocks, buildings and empty lots,” reported The New York Times.
In an interview Momber recounts her transition from a career in fashion photography to a renowned career in documentary photography. She also discusses her experiences returning to New York from Panama City:
“I came out of LaGuardia at the time, came over the Williamsburg Bridge, down Delancey Street. There was this mural, this most beautiful mural. Right up there on the wall. I asked the cab driver, “Could you please drive by there?” He says, “I ain’t going there.” I said, “What do you mean you ain’t going there? This is New York City. This is like, you know, five minutes away from where you’re supposed to take me on Fifth Avenue and 25th Street.” “I ain’t going there.” So I came to the studio. I asked my assistant to give me a loaded camera. He said, “Yeah, but it’s got film from Panama.” I said, “It’s OK. Give me an extra roll,” blah, blah. I got on my bike and went back and took my first photo. That was it. That was the end and the beginning of Marlis Momber, fashion photographer becoming a documentary photographer.”