Posts Tagged ‘New York City in the 1910s’

A municipal photographer’s city on the move

March 18, 2013

He was just an anonymous staff photographer for New York’s Department of Bridges, a 40something descendant of a French noble family who moved to New York from New England and found a job chronicling the changing infrastructure of the 20th century city.

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The man did his job diligently, leaving behind 20,000 photographs taken between 1906 to 1934. After his death in 1943, his work and identity remained unheralded—until the late 1990s.

[Above: painters on the Brooklyn Bridge in 1914; Below, opening day of the Queensboro Bridge, 1909]

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“In 1999, Michael Lorenzini, the senior photographer for the New York City Municipal Archives, was spooling through microfilm of the city’s vast Department of Bridges photography collection when he realized that many of the images shared a distinct and sophisticated aesthetic,” writes Carolyn Kleiner Butler in the September 2007 issue of Smithsonian.

“They also had numbers scratched into the negatives. ‘It just kind of hit me: this is one guy; this is a great photographer,’ Lorenzini says.”

[Below: Newsies on Delancey Street, 1906]

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After pouring over records, the man’s name emerged: Eugene de Salignac. Little is known about his back story or if he had any formal training. No one even knows what he looked like.

But his images of New York’s bridges, roadways, subways and the workers who maintained them reveal a playfulness and artistic eye. They capture the hardware of the city with a sense of tenderness and beauty.

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[Above: under the Brooklyn Bridge, 1918]

De Salignac has been steadily getting his due as an artist. The Museum of the City of New York exhibited his images in a 2007 show. His work was also collected in New York Rises: Photographs by Eugene de Salignac.

More examples of his work can be found in the vast, fascinating collection of the Municipal Archives.

Where Seventh Avenue once abruptly ended

May 1, 2010

This 1912 photo shows what was then the end of Seventh Avenue, with Greenwich Avenue to  the left and West 11th Street on the right.

It looks quaint and Village-like, but it wouldn’t last much longer.

City officials had already decided to extend Seventh Avenue to Varick Street to build the IRT Seventh Avenue subway. A lengthened Seventh Avenue would also improve traffic flow downtown, they reasoned.

So the headquarters of Monahan’s, a shipping company, met the wrecking ball a year later. And a not particularly attractive thoroughfare christened Seventh Avenue South came into existence.

Here’s the same stretch of the Village today. In the 1912 photo, you can see the fence of St. Vincent’s Hospital at the far left. The ghost of the hospital is still there.