Morris Engel (American, b. 1918) was born in Brooklyn to immigrant parents from Lithuania. An early interest in photography led him to enroll in a class at New York’s Photo League, a group dedicated to raising social consciousness through modern photography. Some of the most influential photographers of the time were associated with the Photo League; Engel worked closely with Aaron Siskind on the project “Harlem Document” from 1936-40 and later assisted Paul Strand in filming Native Land.
Like many Photo League photographers, Engel documented life in New York City, producing and exhibiting photo essays on Coney Island, the Lower East Side and Harlem. In 1939 he had his first exhibition at New York’s New School. In 1940 he joined the staff of the newspaper PM, but he left the publication one year later to sign on with the U.S. Navy as a member of a combat photo unit. He participated in the D-Day invasion of Normandy.
In 1951 Engel momentarily quit still photography to pursue a career in filmmaking. He made a series of low budget films with a custom 35 mm camera. His first feature film, Little Fugitive (made with his wife, the renowned photographer Ruth Orkin), earned an Academy Award nomination in 1953 for Best Original Screenplay and was screened in more than 5,000 theaters across the United States.
Engel’s photographs are widely exhibited and found in the collections of the International Center of Photography (New York), the Museum of the City of New York, the Museum of Modern Art (New York) and the National Portrait Gallery (Washington, D.C.). His films continue to be screened at venues such as the Whitney Museum of Art (New York), the Brooklyn Museum and the American Museum of the Moving Image (New York).