Posts Tagged ‘New York in the 1910s’

A pioneering photographer captures the 1910s

March 24, 2014

Born on the Upper West Side in 1890, Paul Strand became a pioneering filmmaker with his eerie silent Manhatta in 1921, among other motion pictures during his six-decade career.

[Below: American City, 1916]

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He’s also one of the first street photographers—credited with establishing photography as an art form in the teens and capturing haunting images of people amid the sleek, dehumanized early 20th century metropolis.

[Below: Wall Street 1915]

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Strand’s interest in photography began during his student years at the Ethical Culture School. Photographer and social reformer Lewis Hine was his teacher, and Hine introduced Strand to Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen, artists who greatly influenced Strand’s work.

Paulstrandblind1916Stieglitz soon became a mentor. “In early 1915, his mentor Stieglitz criticized the graphic softness of Strand’s photographs and over the next two years he dramatically changed his technique and made extraordinary photographs on three principal themes: movement in the city, abstractions, and street portraits,” states the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“During the 1910s, New York thronged with pedestrians, carriages, and automobiles, and the streets became the unavoidable symbol of flux, change, and modernity.”

Strand did something revolutionary at the time: he abandoned posed photography in favor of portraits of people unaware of the camera.

[Above: Blind, 1916]

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[Above: “Central Park Scene, 1915”]

He stated his reasoning: “I felt that one could get a quality of being through the fact that the person did not know he was being photographed … [and I wanted to capture] these people within an environment which they themselves had chosen to be in, or were in anyway.”

Paulstrandmanfivepntssqny1916Strand shot images of the poor, of immigrants, of workers, of the blind and disabled, of aging New Yorkers in parks. His work reveals the humanity amid a modern city on the move, bustling with traffic, crowds, and commerce.

“Treating the human condition in the modern urban context, Strand’s photographs are a subversive alternative to the studio portrait of glamour and power,” states the Met.

[Above: Man, Five Points Square, New York, 1916]

“A new kind of portrait akin to a social terrain, they are, as Sanford Schwartz put it, ‘cityscapes that have faces for subjects.'”

See the 10-minute Manhatta here—it’s a treasure.

The city’s star female impersonator of 1904

June 21, 2012

All but forgotten today, Julian Eltinge was one of the highest paid actors in the early 1900s.

His shtick: He played all his roles in drag.

But unlike most drag queens, who present a caricature of a woman, Eltinge was a “gender illusionist” pretending, with a wink, to actually be a woman.

He made his debut in his 20s at the Bijou Theater in 1904. In subsequent shows written just for him, he played to packed houses.

Audiences knew he was a man, but he was so convincing as a woman, he was dubbed “Mr. Lillian Russell.” He even launched a magazine that gave women beauty tips.

Perhaps to fend off rumors that he was gay, Eltinge put up a macho facade off-stage and was known to smoke cigars and get into bar brawls, according to It Happened in New York City, cowritten by Fran Capo.

His star faded in the 1920s after leading roles in silent films. He died in 1941 following a 52nd Street club performance.

If you want to see Eltinge today, head to the lobby of the Empire Theater, at 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue.

This is the former Eltinge Theater, and a ceiling mural—uncovered during renovations in the 1990s—depicts three women in flowing robes, all of whom are thought to be Eltinge.

Future New York: “The City of Skyscrapers”

April 27, 2011

Some predictions about what life in a future New York will be like actually come to pass—while others never make it out of the fantasy stage.

In the fantasy category are the Hudson River bridges proposed in the 1880s and then the 1950s for 23rd Street and 125th Street.

The moving sidewalks dreamed up in 1871 and then again in 1910 also never came to fruition.

But this Walker Evans postcard, from the 1910s, accurately predicted that New York would be a city of skyscrapers.

The trams traveling along interconnected tracks through buildings and the airplanes crowding low in the skies just didn’t pan out, at least not yet.