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]
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.
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.
[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]
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:
“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]