Posts Tagged ‘New York in the 1940s and 1950s’

The teens who found splendor on the gritty East Side docks of the 1940s

March 7, 2022

The smokestacks and storage tanks of the East River waterfront of the 1930s or 1940s should be an unappealing place to meet friends. But painter Joseph Lambert Cain has captured a group of teenagers gathered on a pier here to sunbathe, talk, and pair off.

For these teens, perhaps from the Lower East Side or the Gas House District in the East 20s, the waterfront is an idyllic location—away from the critical eyes of adults and into the warm embrace of the working class city they likely grew up in.

Cain titled his painting “New York Harbor.” I’m not sure of the date, but my guess is about 1940. The riverfront industry surrounds them, but the modern city of skyscrapers is within sight and reach.

Saul Leiter’s haunting street photographs

April 25, 2011

New York has never had a shortage of photographers chronicling the city’s moods and moments.

But Saul Leiter’s 1940s and 1950s color photos are something else, even among his New York School contemporaries.

Born in 1923, Leiter came to New York from Pittsburgh. With no training, he made a living shooting fashion magazine spreads.

On his own, he walked the streets with his camera—often an expired roll of color film inside, which created pictures with muted colors.

He captured fluid fragments of otherwise unremarkable city life that make haunting, unsentimental images.

[At left, “Yellow Scarf,” 1956; above, “Frank’s Pizza,” 1952]

In a 2009 interview with Photographers Speak, Leiter responded to a comment about his work representing the alienation of the city with this:

“I never thought of the urban environment as isolating. I leave these speculations to others.

“It is quite possible that my work represents a search for beauty in the most prosaic and ordinary places.

“One doesn’t have to be in some faraway dreamland in order to find beauty. I realize that the search for beauty is not highly popular these days. Agony, misery, and wretchedness, now these are worth pursuing.”

[above: “Postmen,” 1952]