By: Nina Leen, 1948.
“Nina Leen’s life, from early on, was one in which travel played a key role a life that, in retrospect, had something of a purposefully nomadic quality. Born in Russia (the date of her birth is unknown, as she adamantly refused to reveal or even discuss her age), Leen grew up in Europe. She studied painting in Berlin before emigrating to the United States in 1939. With her first camera, a Rolleiflex, she honed her photography skills, teaching herself how to take pictures and developing what would become her signature style by creating at-once intimate and stylized portraits of animals at New York’s Bronx Zoo…
A great animal lover whose pictures of dogs, cats, bats (she had a special affinity for and obsession with the furry flying mammals) and other creatures could, and eventually would, fill entire books, Nina Leen also had a way with those other wild things: teenagers. Her numerous essays on the fads, etiquette and attitudes of the American teen captured the younger generations of the ’40s and ’50s with a winning mix of bemusement and empathy. She was also one of the most prolific and accomplished fashion photographers LIFE ever had…After LIFE folded (for the first time) in 1972, Nina Leen’s career hardly slowed. Throughout the 1970s she produced an average of two books a year, and published 15 in her lifetime, including a groundbreaking work on her beloved bats. Nina Leen died on January 1, 1995, at her home in New York City. A spokesperson for LIFE said that she was in her late 70s or early 80s but no one really knows for sure.”
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