Tuesday, October 29, 2019


By José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Two of the pictures made by Claire Yaffa during her thirty-two years of photographic coverage inside the New York Foundling Hospital between 1979 and 2011, hanging in king size from the top area of the main hall arches of Plaza Hotel in New York where the Celebration Gala for the 150th Anniversary of the New York Foundling was held. 
© Nicholas Kohomban / The New York Foundling.

On Wednesday October 2, 2019 the New York Foundling Hospital hosted a Gala at the Plaza Hotel, celebrating its 150 years of service, as well as honoring Gregory B. Braca, longtime friend and supporter, philanthropist and President and CEO of the TD Bank.

The Gala, who also had the attendance of Robert E. King Junior (Chair of Financial Services of the New York Foundling Hospital), paid homage to the New York´s Foundling historic beginnings, commemorated the long-lasting impact of the Foundling´s work with children, adults and families over the past 150 years and celebrated the life changing services provided by the organization today.

Claire Yaffa with Bill Baccaglini, President and CEO of The New York Foundling, during the Gala inside the Plaza Hotel in New York. 
© Nicholas Kohomban / The New York Foundling.

As a part of this event which had an attendance of 500 guests, the photographer Claire Yaffa was thanked at the beginning of the Gala for her amazing long-term photographic project of thirty-two years photographing neglected, ill, abused, forgotten, disabled and abandoned children inside the New York Foundling Hospital and its Crisis Nursery, and was congratulated for the reprinting of 3,000 copies of the 2002 book " The Story of the New York Foundling Hospital " , written by Martin Gottlieb (Deputy Cultural Editor of The New York Times) and including contemporary pictures made by her.

Claire Yaffa getting a picture during the Dinner Gala inside the Plaza Hotel in New York on October 2, 2019, using a 24 x 36 mm format Leica M9 digital rangefinder camera coupled to her beloved 6 elements in 4 groups Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 fourth version from 1979. 
© Nicholas Kohomban / The New York Foundling 


Book " The Foundling : The Story of The New York Foundling Hospital " from 2002, of which three thousand reprinted copies have been made to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the organization. It includes an introduction by The New York Times Assistant Managing Editor Martin Gottlieb and further pictures made in 2019 by Claire Yaffa, who was asked to document new help for children and elders in very impressive new programs implemented by the New York Foundling. 
© jmse

The decision of the Board of Trustees of the New York Foundling of reprinting 3,000 copies of the book The Foundling : The Story of the New York Foundling Hospital, seventeen years after its first edition in 2002, has been a wise movement, since it embodies the values and ethos that have always been hallmark of this prestigious organization which throughout 150 years of strenuous effort, unselfishness, social awareness and attention to hundred of thousands of children and their families, has managed to change the lives of many human beings, with its invaluable help and care, a working raison d´etre and humanism epitomized by people like Sisters Mary Irene Fitzgibbon, Carmela Joseph, Marilda, Genevieve, Marie Bernard and others, the Fitzgeralds Family of the Year, Dr. Vicent J. Fontana, Dr Joseph di Leo, Dr. Mayu Gonzales, Joseph Ackerman, Kathleen McGlade, etc, who devoted their lives to strive upon improving the standard of living and future possibilities of handicapped children because of disease, abuse, malnourishment, abandonment and so forth.

All of it was masterfully explained by the text of Martin Gottlieb and the contemporary pictures made by Claire Yaffa.


© Claire Yaffa 

After meeting Dr Vincent J. Fontana (then Head of the Mayor´s Task Force on Child Abuse and Director of the New York Foundling Hospital) for the first time in 1979 and watching the unwavering level of commitment and personal effort of every member of the organization (doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, sisters, etc) along with foster mothers and families towards the children inside the New York Foundling Hospital and its Crisis Nursery and the way in which they fought tooth and nail to get productive and happy futures for them, Claire Yaffa thought that it was worth documenting that very special and fascinating context.

But before doing anything, she kept on doing visits to the New York Foundling Hospital and its Crisis Nursery for some weeks more, trying to learn as much as possible about their working methods and the amazing interactions between human beings occurring inside.

She realized from scratch that to fulfill a photographic assignment covering what was happening within both buildings would be a difficult and hard mission, because of a number of reasons:

- It was indispensable not to disturb doctors and nurses on getting pictures while they were working with the children, boys and girls.

- It was necessary to create a rapport with those children, boys and girls, most of them with special needs of all kind, stemming from poverty, violent familiar backgrounds, abuse, malnourishment, illness, abandonment, etc, and whose moods often changed.

- A further top priority was to gain the trust of foster adults, something pivotal, since interactions among those grown-up persons with the children, boys and girls would make up a significant percentage of the long term photographic project.

- It dawned on her that the very special nature of this photographic work would mean to get the pictures at very different hours of the day, without any possibility of a fixed schedule or calculating in advance how long it would take. 

- The images had to be taken always shooting handheld and using only available light.

- An utter degree of immersion would be necessary, following the principles imparted to her by Eugene Smith (great friend of hers and along with Gordon Parks her main teacher of photography until his demise on October 15, 1978) and related to the working method in The Country Doctor, The Jazz Loft and other projects accomplished by the Genius from Wichita.
- The pictures had to be made with the photographer going unnoticed. The children, boys, girls, foster mothers and fathers, foster grandmothers, etc, shouldn´t appear looking at the camera, to preserve the real atmospheres and intimacy of the depicted meaningful instants.


 Leica M6, the model of analogue rangefinder camera with which Claire Yaffa made her long term photographic project inside the New York Foundling Hospital between 1979 and 2011.

6 elements in 4 groups Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 4th version, a legendary lens designed by the optical wizard Walter Mander in 1979 (it was the reference-class standard 50 mm f/2 lens in the word until 2012), and steadily attached by Claire Yaffa to her Leica M6 until 2009 and to her digital Leica M9 from 2009 hitherto.

Prior to start getting pictures inside the New York Foundling Hospital and its Crisis Nursery in mid 1979, Claire Yaffa had been a photojournalist for The New York Times, working with a medium format 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 Rolleiflex 2.8 fK7F Type camera with Carl Zeiss Planar 80 mm f/2.8 lens, to which she would add a Nikon FM2 ( a remarkable 100% mechanical camera featuring shutter speeds up to 1/4000th second and flash X-sync of 1/250th second, highly resistant vertical metal shutter blades made of lightweight titanium and able to work at extreme temperatures between -40º and +50º C) with Nikkor 50 mm f/1.8 Ai lens and MD-12 motordrive in 1983.

But the excellent Rolleiflex medium format camera was too bulky to get discretion during the photographic act with indoor shots from a very near distance, and any 35 mm format reflex camera would render excessive noise because of the swiveling movement of its mirror, which besides made unfeasible to get sharp pictures under 1/45 s shutter speeds in dim light environments.

That´s why she decided in 1979 to acquire a Leica M4-2 rangefinder coupled to a

In 1978, one year before Claire Yaffa began her long term photographic project inside the New York Foundling Hospital, the optical wizard Walter Mandler had already designed at the Ernst Leitz Midland, Ontario (Canada) factory the first prototypes of the new Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 4th version with which he achieved one of the greatest feats in the history of photographic optics, yielding impressive resolving power almost on a par with the also mythical Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 DR, but clearly improving it in terms of contrast (exceptional and incredibly homogeneous even at widest f/2 aperture) and sharpness. In addition, aside from creating the best standard 50 mm f/2 lens in the world, he managed to get a commendable cost/performance ratio in comparison with the very high production cost previous Summicrons 50 mm f/2, not only without losing any quality, but beating them in optical performance, including an increase in high transmission and uniform color rendition from lens to lens, thanks to his tremendous knowledge on different glasses properties, cost of materials, tools used to manufacture the lenses, and many more things, including his fabulous expertise and insight, applying common radii all over the lens and doing things in such a way that the creation of this 6 elements in 4 groups Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 version 4 lens only needed four new tools for grinding and polishing, with ther added benefit of an easier mechanical design.

6 elements in 4 groups Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 version 4 designed by Walter Mandler in Midland, Ontario (Canada), a wonderful lens that she has been using for 40 years.

© jmse

Five years later, following the advice of his friend Cornell Capa and his wife Eddie Schwartz, she bought a Leica M6 and attached it to the same Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 version 4, being this the combo with which she worked throughout twenty-five years, until 2009 when she acquired a Leica M9 digital 24 x 36 mm format rangefinder camera meaning the German photographic firm flawless analogue/digital transition, preserving the core values traditionally inherent to Leica RF analogue models.

This photographic gear was much more adequate for the New York Foundling Hospital long term photographic project, since the very small size and weight of the Leica M6 (138 x 77 x 38 mm and 560 g) and the tiny Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 4th version (length of 43.5 mm, maximum diameter of 53 mm and 240 g) substantially enhanced discretion and chances to remain undetected on getting pictures.

In addition, the Leica M6 featured three further very valuable virtues:

                                                           © Leica Camera AG

a) The whispering, virtually inaudible noise of the horizontal-travelling cloth focal plane shutter with rubberized curtains, a highly valuable advantage when getting pictures of the children, boys, girls and foster relatives from very near distances, to avoid disturbing them and doing the photographic mission in an unobtrusive way,

© jmse

pressing the shutter release button of the camera in a very quiet way.

b ) The stunningly short shutter lag of 12 ms between the pressing of the shutter release button and the exposure, enabling the photographer to get a great precision in the timing on getting the picture at the defining split second, something that can make a difference between a great photograph and a simply acceptable one.

© jmse

c) The exceptional 0.72x viewfinder coupled to a top-notch viewfinder and making up a masterpiece of opto-mechanical precision with more than 150 individual components.

This amazing VF allows a very sharp and brilliant vision to the photographer together with an accurate focusing even in exceedingly dim conditions, something fundamental for the long term photographic project fulfilled by Claire Yaffa inside New York Foundling Hospital and its Crisis Nursery.


Here are some of the pictures she made between 1979 and 2011:

© Claire Yaffa

Finding equilibrium at the skilled nursing facility. A great frontal shot in which the photographer has surprised the small child with happiness on his countenance while feeling helped by the nurse and doctor. The child hasn´t detected Claire Yaffa´s presence, so the face of the picture main character oozes spontaneity, optimism and above all hope of future.

© Claire Yaffa

A foster mother advances slowly across a corridor inside the New York Foundling Hospital while helping a very little child to walk.

The accuracy of the timing by the photographer on pressing the shutter release button of the camera has been amazing, since the left foot of both the woman and the creature has been captured going forward, conveying a feeling of motion thanks to the slow shutter speed used.

Moreover, the foster mother is stretching her right arm and hand to grab the left hand of the child, who on his turn is extending his left arm to reach the woman´s hand and find help.

This is a highly symbolic image abridging the core values of New York Foundling Hospital throughout its 150 years of history and its meaning as a safe harbor for children and mothers in a world that too often had been unaccepting.

It´s a fleeting moment photographed for ever, and thirty-five years after 1984 when the image was made, goes on being a highly meaningful picture.

© Claire Yaffa

An image full of encouragement and love.

A foster mother with a very young girl inside the skilled nursing facility of the New York Foundling Hospital. The creature has always needed to be on a small wheelchair, but is feeling the elation, joy of living and support being vividly transmitted to her by the smiling adult woman.

The photographer has been successful depicting the mutual interaction between both human beings, while going unnoticed at the moment of the photographic act.

The slow shutter speed used has rendered both moving hands of the grow up woman blurred, greatly fostering the dynamism of the scene.

© Claire Yaffa

A highly stressful instant between a teenager boy and his mother, who is rebuking him for some misbehavior.

An impressive image in which the photographer has made a very fast and instinctive shot, shooting at f/2.8 from an exceedingly short distance to highlight both persons.

It´s a very powerful picture.

Both the mother and his son feature great physical strength and character.

It´s apparent that the woman has got a lot of authority over the boy, and simultaneously her face reveals tons of suffer brought about by the difficult situation in which the boy is immersed.

Because of the great quickness with which the photographer has had to raise the Leica M6 to her face, the countenance of the woman, who has been rendered with her open mouth while speaking, appears slightly out of focus, something typical in this kind of photojournalistic Leica images, as has often been explained by the expert in History of Photography Michael Auer, but it doesn´t matter, because in this kind of photographic genre the most important factors are to be at the adequate moment and place, as near as possible to the subjects, and capturing the defining instant.

Neither the woman or the teenage boy have realized the presence of the photographer.
In addition, the very tight frame made by the photographer after approaching to the utmost, greatly enhances the drama of mother / son dialogue. 
© Claire Yaffa

A friendship blossoms. Lovely image showing the sincere friendship between two needed children inside one of the rooms of the New York Foundling Hospital.

In the same way as happened with the rest of pictures made by Clare Yaffa during this long term photographic project, the short tele lens nature inherent to the Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 4th Version lens used by her enabled to keep a security distance to preserve the genuine atmosphere, intimacy and spontaneity of the depicted instants, aside from rendering the photographed human beings in very natural proportions.

It´s an instant fraught with tenderness between both children, powerfully strengthened by their eyes looking at each other, their mutual smile and the left arm and hand of the boy on the left hugging the shoulders of the one on the bed.

Needless to say that the photographer has gone unnoticed, since both boys are focused on their chemistry and yearning for playing and enjoying, in spite of their life full of needs.

© Claire Yaffa

Two children have just had a dispute and are being scolded for it. The one on the right is blaming the one lying on the floor for what has happened, while the latter is listening to his words.

There are two very powerful diagonal lines holding a sway over the image : a descending one with the woman staring at the boy on the right, and an ascending one from the child on the floor to the other one standing.

The image has got great depth of field because of the probably f/8 or f/11 diaphragm selected taking advantage of the abundant light entering through a window, though the shutter speed is moderate and has rendered blurred the right hand on the standing child, conveying a feeling of motion.

In addition, the opposite directions of the children´s extended hands bluntly mean that each one is defending " his truth " , and particularly the child on the right is closed to any explanation coming from the one lying on the floor.

© Claire Yaffa

Image depicting the ecstatic countenance of a mother sitting on a bed inside the New York Foundling Hospital while her little baby girl is crying.

This is a very intimate moment captured by the photographer from a very near distance, with a tight and accurate framing encompassing the top area of her head and her fingers, while holding the creature with both hands, and leveraging the top quality natural light entering the room and begetting specific high key and low key areas on the faces of both persons, rendered by the lens with praiseworthy level of detail.

Once more, the short tele nature of the Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 4th version has made possible the creation of an excellent portrait, shooting handheld with available light at a wide aperture.

The contrast and sharpness attained by this lens is such that the gorgeous reproduction of the image in a 22.5 x 28 cm fill page size in the book is far better than this one and a relish to behold for any lover of photography as a true haptic experience on paper.

The level of happiness in the mother, engrossed in her thoughts, is so colossal that she hasn´t even detected the presence of the photographer being in front of her, at a distance of around two meters, when she has pressed the shutter release button of her Leica M6 rangefinder camera.

And the mother´s fingers affectionately touching the baby girl´s toes boost the magic of the poignant instant.

© Claire Yaffa

A blithe moment experienced by a little boy suffering from sight problems. His facial expression reveals glee and confidence. He does feel at home.

© Claire Yaffa

A very young pensive girl on a wheelchair is trying to take out her trackie while a nurse of the New York Foundling Hospital is about to help her with her right hand, because the left one is grabbing the little girl´s aluminium crutches and sneakers.

The photographer has captured a moment of introspection of the exceedingly young girl, absorbed in her thoughts, and the slow shutter speed chosen by the photographer has yielded the nurse´s moving forward right hand blurred, so a perception of motion is attained.

© Claire Yaffa

A foster grandmother and a child hug each other. The interaction between both human beings is captured at its peak. Their closed eyes and their countenances straightforwardly suggest utter bliss.

The very strong maternal instinct of this woman along with her courage and love to spare can mean a better future for the child.

© Claire Yaffa

A father embraces his daughters at the Foundling´s temporary shelter just before going away after visiting them.

The photographer has approached as much as possible, without being detected, and has made the photograph from an almost perpendicular position to the father, whose gesture of gaiety is very apparent while both little girls hug him.

Once more, Claire Yaffa makes a tight framing, being at the core of action and capturing a highly intimate and touching instant.

© Claire Yaffa

A mother holding her very ill little daughter in her arms inside the skilled nursing facility of the Foundling Hospital at 590 Avenue of the Americas.

The photographer has captured the uncompromising level of effort and love of a mother, suffering and sweating profusely in these circumstances.

This image is not fruit of a day. A remarkable level of trust, empathy and respect must be gained through many visits and strenuous efforts during weeks or months until being allowed to get pictures like this in such a painful context.

© Claire Yaffa

Joseph Ackerman holding a child in the Crisis Nursery of the New York Foundling Hospital.
Another highly symbolic image in which the photographer has shot from an exceedingly near distance, going unnoticed, with a very tight frame, capturing a defining moment in which any observer can realize the huge level of love and effort fulfilled by every member of this prestigious institution to help children.

The thrill and emotion experienced by the doctor (Assistant Director of The New York Foundling Hospital Crisis Nursery for many years) while holding the child on his right shoulder is almost tangible, and his left hand, rendered in very large size because of the great proximity of the photographer, conveys a message of help and hope.

© Claire Yaffa

A  mother with his son inside Blaine Hall, a temporary residential center for children between 6 and 12 years old that was placed inside the main New York Foundling Hospital.

The photographer has taken advantage of the top quality natural light getting into the place to get an excellent portrait.

The picture reproduced in the book at full page 22.5 x 28 cm is far better than this image, and the level of detail and contrast delivered by the Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 4th Version is simply superb, following Oskar Barnack´s fundamental keynote of small 24 x 36 mm format negatives yielding great pictures,

© jmse

a philosophy enhanced by Claire Yaffa through her expert use of a Leitz Focomat V35 Autofocus enlarger

© jmse

with Focotar 40 mm f/2.8 lens (with mechanical autofocus through a cam system working flawlessly throughout its 3x to16x enlargement range, and sporting a diffused light mixing box which makes printing the highlight areas on contrasty black-and-white negatives easier than when using condenser type enlargers) to do her prints from original 24 x 36 mm negatives.

© Claire Yaffa

A mother caring and playing with a disabled teenage boy within Saint Agatha Home, which merged with The New York Foundling Hospital in 1977 to better serve youth in the New York Metropolitan area.

Throughout a fifty-one years career as a professional photographer, having worked for the New York Times, Associated Press, NBC, ABC, PBS and others media, five photographic books published hitherto and a number of exhibitions held with her pictures at the International Center of Photography of New York, the Hudson River Museum, the United Nations, her landmark 100 Photographers-100 Portraits exhibition at the Leica Gallery in Wetzlar (Germany) and others, the work she did during 32 years inside the New York Foundling Hospital is the one of which she feels more proud about. 



And it couldn´t be other way, because she got those pictures by dint of perseverance, love for the human beings she photographed with her camera, unswerving commitment, countless visits to the hospital, thousands of hours of very hard work and many more things.

Edward I. Koch, Mayor of New York, announcing Claire Yaffa´s exhibition at the International Center of Photography in New York with pictures made by her inside the New York Foundling Hospital.

Because she made those images with her heart and soul, and her toil was important to better undestand the admirable work of an institution which was pioneer in assisting needed children, adults and families struggling with poverty, domestic violence, disabilities, mental illnesses, etc, to give them the opportunity to reach their full potential,

© Nicholas Kohomban / The New York Foundling

through admirable and carefully designed programs, in such a way that currently, after 150 years of existence, the New York Foundling serves 30,000 people each year.






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