Posts Tagged ‘New York street photographers’

Sunbathing on a Midtown tenement’s tar beach

June 23, 2014

You can practically smell the coconut oil: Photographer Thomas Hoepker takes us back to New York City in 1983 with this evocative image of a rooftop sunbather on a lonely tenement somewhere in Midtown.

It looks hot up there with the black tar roof. Note the TV antennas!


More of Hoepker’s New York photos spanning many decades can be seen here.

© Thomas Hoepker/Magnum Photos

A photographer’s full-color midcentury city

September 23, 2013

As a young man in World War II-ravaged Austria, photographer Ernst Haas made a name for himself with a series of images of Austrian women waiting for their husbands to return from a POW camp.


“The emotionally wrenching shots caught the eye of Robert Capa, who invited him to New York to join his newly formed Magnum [a photo cooperative] alongside Cartier-Bresson and other eminent founders,” states The Jewish Chronicle Online.


[Above: Clouds and Skyline, New York, 1957]

Arriving in the U.S. in 1951, he shot ad campaigns as well as haunting images of postwar America.


He also turned his camera on New York City, capturing fleeting moments of the abstract beauty of the city’s street life and landscapes. [Central Park, below, in 1952, published in Life magazine]


“Rejecting the prevailing black-and-white aesthetic, Haas embraced colour as early as 1949, which earned him the honour of becoming the first photographer to have a solo show of colour work at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York in 1962,” states The Jewish Chronicle Online.

Ernsthaasphoto[Above: Reflections, Third Avenue, 1952]

“He even explored the visual effects of movement, blurring the colours to look like they had been applied with paint.”

Haas’ pioneering photos have been collected in a 2011 book, Ernst Haas: Color Correction.

Like Saul Leiter and other photographers who shot New York in full-on color during the same period, roughly the 1950s through the 1970s, they show us a magical, reflective, transient city.

[Ernst Haas, left]

“Street types” shot by a pioneering photographer

July 1, 2013

Born into a well-to-do Staten Island family in 1866, Alice Austen found her life’s passion after her sea captain uncle brought back a camera from his travels.


[Street Musicians, 1896]

At 10 years old, she began taking photos, and by 18 was carrying around a heavy trunk filled with equipment, chronicling social events, family gatherings, and parties.

By the 1890s she was bringing her camera to Manhattan, where she “photographed the newly arriving immigrants and older residents as they went about their business,” states the website for Staten Island’s Alice Austen House, which preserves her home and legacy.


[Bike Messenger, 1892]

“Alice always photographed the people and places of her world as they actually appeared, giving us a beautiful visual window on 19th century America.”

She collected many of these photos in “Street Types of New York City,” an 1896 portfolio of images of peddlers, salesman, and other workers as she encountered them on city streets. She continued taking photos through her life; over 3,500 survive.


[Hester Street Egg Stand Group, 1896]

Austen’s comfortable life imploded after the stock market crash of 1929. For the remaining decades of her life, she and her companion, Gertrude Tate, lived in poverty.

Just before her death in 1952, her work finally received notoriety, and in the decades since, her standing as a pioneering female photographer of the beautiful and rich as well as the poor and struggling has continued to grow.


[Suspender Salesman; 1896]

The Alice Austen House recently ended an exhibit of her street photography. But the house continues to promote her reputation as an artist and early female photographer.

[All photos copyright Alice Austen House]

A street photographer captures the city in motion

November 6, 2012

Rudy Burckhardt arrived in New York in 1935. He was 21, born and raised in Switzerland, a medical school dropout determined to be an artist.

Though he painted and made short films, he’s known for his street photography: black and white shots of mid-century New Yorkers in motion amid a swirl of crowds and buildings, yet strangely alone in the modern urban landscape.

At right, he photographed friend and dance critic Edwin Denby on the roof of their apartment at 145 West 21st Street.

“[His] best artworks are the New York images from the ’40s, strange angled photographs shot from the tops of skyscrapers, or movements in the streets of Manhattan taken from the knees down,” wrote Valery Oisteanu on, for a retrospective of Burckhardt’s work exhibited in 2004 at the Tibor de Nagy gallery.

“He didn’t indulge in expressionist distortion, or depict grotesque sideshow freaks, but rather captured the melancholia of the metropolis,” wrote Oisteanu.

“The pedestrians in his snapshots execute a hectic choreography in navigating New York’s streets. It took the eye of a Swiss born New Yorker to sense the city’s pulse and its dramatic flair.”

Burckhardt, who served as the unofficial “house photographer” for New York School artists in the 1930s and who poet John Ashbery once called a “subterranean monument,” died in 1999 in Maine.

Near his home there, he committed suicide by drowning in a lake.

A moment of “quiet humanity” from Saul Leiter

February 9, 2012

Saul Leiter’s photographs capture bits and pieces of midcentury New York’s muted beauty—as seen here in 1957’s Phone Call.

Martin Harrison, the editor and author of the wonderful Saul Leiter Early Color, wrote, “He sought out moments of quiet humanity in the Manhattan maelstrom, forging a unique urban pastoral from the most unlikely of circumstances.”

A street photographer’s tender, noble New York

October 10, 2011

Vivian Maier’s life and work are still being uncovered.

Born in the city in 1926, her story doesn’t sound remarkable: She lived in Europe until 1951, returning to New York City for four years, where she worked in a sweatshop before moving to Chicago.

There she spent the next 40 years as a nanny; reportedly she was homeless and broke later in life before the adult children she cared for years earlier rescued her from destitution. Intensely private, she died in 2009 at 83.

Now here’s the remarkable part. Throughout her life, she took pictures—at least 100,000 of them, the negatives of which were inside a storage locker that was auctioned off in 2007.

The new owner, amazed at his incredible find, has been working to bring attention to her art and give Maier her proper due. (Below is a self-portrait.)

“Most of Maier’s photos are black and white, and many feature unposed or casual shots of people caught in action—passing moments that nonetheless possess an underlying gravity and emotion,” explains a 2011 Chicago Magazine article.

Though many of her images were taken in Chicago, others document New York’s rougher edges in the 1950s—a tender collection of underdogs, not-quite-in-sync lovers, and lonely souls.

A portfolio of dozens of her New York photos can be accessed here.

A street photographer’s working-class New York

July 20, 2011

“Whether he trained his camera on exuberant summer scenes on the beaches of Coney Island or the intimate corners of Mulberry Street during the San Gennaro festival, as here, Grossman was one of the greatest chroniclers of working-class life in New York during the late 1930s and 1940s,” writes the Metropolitan Museum of Art of Sid Grossman.

[Left: “Mulberry Street, 1948”]

While still a City College student, Grossman launched his career as a freelance photojournalist; he and fellow lensman Sol Libsohn cofounded the Photo League in 1936, teaching the craft as well as shooting street scenes in Chelsea and Harlem.

[Below: “Harlem Scene: 133rd Street Between Lenox and Fifth Avenues,” 1930s]

Grossman’s photos captured regular New Yorkers going about life in the 1930s, but by the 1940s, his photos often had a surreal quality, with subjects out of frame and staring back at the camera.

This made the viewer “an engaged participant in the scene rather than an aloof flâneur, rendering the experience of the picture not just an aesthetic dalliance, but a social activity as well.”

[above: “Two Young Women before a Pastry Shop at Night,” 1948]

Grossman might have continued shooting New York—but photos of labor union unrest he took in the 1930s led to an FBI investigation, which deemed the Photo League a Communist front.

The league was blacklisted; Grossman died in 1955.