Rivka Katvan – An Appreciation by Harriet Whelchel

Through a Lens Brightly: Women, Photography & Change –
A Blog Series in Honor of Women’s History Month.
Laura Linney & Jennifer Carpenter - The Crucible, 2002 ©Rivka Katvan

Laura Linney & Jennifer Carpenter – The Crucible, 2002 ©Rivka Katvan

Photographer Rivka Shifman Katvan creates diverse narratives that range from intimate backstage scenes during Broadway plays, the daily existence of eccentric Catskills villagers, the mysterious lives of mannequins reflected in store windows, and fairy tale-like scenes of Coney Island. Her work has been widely celebrated throughout New York’s artistic and theatrical communities, including Gallery 138, the International Center of Photography, the Museum of the City of New York, and the Museum of Television and Radio. She has also been featured in numerous publications in print and online, including The Guardian Weekend Magazine, The New York Times, as well as www.kodak.com and www.lanciatrendvisions.com.

Alan Cumming - Cabaret, 1998 ©Rivka Katvan

Alan Cumming – Cabaret, 1998 ©Rivka Katvan

Katvan’s relationship with the theater originated in 1978 during a backstage visit to a friend who was appearing in The Magic Show. She was immediately struck by the contrast between the illusions being created onstage and the down-to-earth reality of backstage life. Katvan soon became a backstage fixture, learning how to be discreet in other people’s private spaces, putting them at ease and gaining their trust, enabling her to catch fleeting glimpses of beloved Broadway stars like Alan Cumming, Natasha Richardson, Liam Neeson, and Elizabeth Taylor.

Elizabeth Taylor - The Little Foxes, 1981 ©Rivka Katvan

Elizabeth Taylor – The Little Foxes, 1981 ©Rivka Katvan

For many years the only fine-art photographer allowed to document backstage on Broadway during the Tony Awards, Katvan developed a special bond with the theatrical community. Feeling the need to give back to those who had embraced her so wholeheartedly, she contacted the nonprofit organization Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS in the early 1990s, offering to donate photographs to a charity auction. Since then she has made the group part of her extended family, speaking out for the cause, participating in fundraising events, and commemorating many of their efforts with her camera. According to Tom Viola, executive director of Broadway Cares, Katvan’s photographs have raised more than $120,000 for the organization.

Cyndi Lauper - The Threepenny Opera, 2006 ©Rivka Katvan

Cyndi Lauper – The Threepenny Opera, 2006 ©Rivka Katvan

In 2006, Katvan extended her backstage photography to New York’s Sing Sing Correctional Facility, documenting inmates (many serving life sentences) as they rehearsed the play Oedipus Rex, performed over four nights. In 2011, she participated in the State Department’s Art in Embassies program, which places artists’ works in consulates and embassies around the world in an effort to show “how art can transcend national borders and build connections among peoples.€ Her lyrical scenes of Central Park covered in snow and the Brooklyn Bridge enveloped in fog presented a strong contrast with the year-round hot climate of Djibouti, Africa, where they were shown.

Brooklyn Bridge, 2007 ©Rivka Katvan

Brooklyn Bridge, 2007 ©Rivka Katvan


Harriet Whelchel has been an art-book editor for more than twenty-five years, first at Abrams, Inc., and most recently as senior editor at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Currently a freelance editor, she has edited and managed projects for private clients and publishing companies, including Abrams, The Metropolitan Museum, and Rizzoli New York. She is proud to have edited Rivka Katvan’s book Backstage: Broadway Behind the Curtain (Abrams, 2001).

Glenn Close - Barnum, 1980 ©Rivka Katvan

Glenn Close – Barnum, 1980 ©Rivka Katvan

(Rivka Shifman Katvan will be speaking about her work at  Professional Women Photographers on May 8th, 6:30 – 8:30 pm, at the Metropolitan Opera Guild, 70 Lincoln Center Plaza, West 65th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. The public is welcome, $10 at the door for non-members. For more information, call 917-304-4354.)

Links to other articles in Through a Lens Brightly: Women, Photography & Change:


Gigi Stoll: Inspiration All Over the World

Of Her Time & Way Ahead: Beth Wilson on Maggie Sherwood

Tanya Sleiman: Capturing Elusive Photographer Helen Levitt on Film

Rivka Katvan: An Appreciation by Harriet Whelchel






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