Charles Cushman’s full-color 1940s New York City

When you’re used to seeing the mid-century city in grainy black and white or stylized shades of gray, Charles Weever Cushman’s vivid, explosive color photos are a revelation.

[Below: "Poverty, young and old, black and white," October 4, 1942]

Povertyyoungoldblackwhite1942

An editor turned statistician from the Midwest who pursued photography as a hobby, Cushman traveled extensively and took photos wherever he went. From 1938 to 1969 he shot landscapes, landmarks, and ordinary people all across America.

Cushmanclintonstresidents1941

But it’s his incredible scenes from the shopworn, slightly tattered nooks and corners of mostly World War II-era New York that are most captivating.

[Above: "Residents of lower Clinton Street near East River Saturday afternoon," September 27, 1941]

In these Kodachrome color images, he aimed his lens at corner bars and luncheonettes, pedestrians on stoops and sidewalks, and other bits of day-to-day life that may not have seemed so remarkable then but today feel poetic and serendipitous.

Cushmancornerpearlst1942

[Above: "A busy corner of Pearl Street at noon," October 7, 1942]

After his death in 1972, 14,500 of his Kodachrome slides were donated to his alma mater, Indiana University. The university digitized his entire collection.

[Below, "Three bums from South Ferry Flophouses" at Battery Park, June 6, 1941]

Cushman3bumssoferry1941

Cushman (below) kept detailed notes about each photo he took, but who he was and what he was hoping to preserve are shrouded in mystery. His second wife reportedly had this to say, via the biography about him on the Indiana University archives website:

Charlescushman“Charles was a shrewd individual . . . a sharp evaluator of people, and was very prudent and shrewd in his securities selection. He loved life—music, good books, sports, the outdoors, travel, integrity . . . and could not tolerate ignorance.”

[All photos copyright Charles W. Cushman Photography Collection/Indiana University Archives]

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13 Responses to “Charles Cushman’s full-color 1940s New York City”

  1. Edward Says:

    “Bums” in the 1940s dressed better than most of us do today!

  2. petey Says:

    old color pictures really are a revelation. it’s still jarring to me to see that old dress styles were as bright as any today.

  3. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I know what you mean. When you’re used to seeing black and white images and movies, it’s easy to forget that the world was in full color before the 1950s!

  4. BabyDave Says:

    Thanks again for an illuminating post.

  5. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thank Indiana U. for digitizing these amazing photos!

  6. ledamato Says:

    Now I want to see all of them!

  7. The 1940s Lower East Side salvage collectors | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] of his color photos capture ordinary street scenes in New York in the early 1940s. Here, some salvage collectors on a Lower East Side street in October 1941 recycle the […]

  8. Joly MacFie Says:

    The Clinton St pics link through to the Pearl St page at Indiana?

  9. bluestarr Says:

    These photos are fab, what a gift to leave.

  10. RD Wolff Says:

    Those “3 bums” look better dressed than most businessmen do today!

  11. cattychick Says:

    Indiana University’s archive of Cushman’s photos is astounding. If you get a chance, check it out, and be prepared to spend hours enjoying it!

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