Stanley I. Knap was born in 1947 in Wildflecken, Germany in a displaced persons refugee camp, operated by the US Army. His parents were liberated from Nazi concentration camps two years earlier, and together with 20,000 Polish refugees, were given the choice immigrate to the United States. In 1949, the family landed in Manhattan, but eventually settled in New Jersey where Stanley’s father, a talented composer and music director, took a job at a Polish parish in Passaic. His mother, a nurse with RN status in Poland, quickly taught herself enough English to qualify as a LPN at a local hospital.
Stanley identified with his Polish roots as a child, but became Americanized in high school. He was drawn to photography and graduated from The School of Visual Arts in 1969, majoring in both film and photography. His work – that of the life around him and his beloved city – won him early accolades: he was awarded sponsorship for a Guggenheim Grant and was also an assistant to Annie Lebowitz. His work was published in New West Magazine and he was featured in Rolling Stone as being one of the Twelve Hot photographers. He shot a number of album covers: Blossom Dearie, Larry Croce, and Sugarcane Harris, among others. Stanley’s work touches upon that of Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank; however, it was Stanley’s mentor and teacher Garry Winogrand who would be the biggest artistic influence in his career. His subject matter is his life and observations; much of his work captures the dynamic and gritty realities of New York City in the 60s-80s.
Stanley preferred working in film photography, never digital, as it allowed a tactile relationship between the photographer, the subject, and the viewer. He primarily worked with a 35mm Leica M4 camera with a 28mm lens and Tri-X 400 in black and white film. There was no cropping or special manipulation done in the dark room and all photographs were composed full-frame in the camera’s viewfinder.
Stanley suffered from a syndrome that many children of adult Holocaust survivors develop. While it manifests itself in a myriad of ways, for Stanley it halted his ability to pursue photography. In 2009, he began working again. As he was beginning to reestablish himself, he was diagnosed with cancer and died in June of 2014.