Posts Tagged ‘New York Street photos’

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.

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.

Three ways of looking at Varick Street

June 6, 2011

Varick Street between West Houston and Clarkson Streets comes across as a sleepy little stretch of the city in this 1921 photo.

A row of early 19th century Federal-style houses cover the entire west side of the block. And a corner cigar store and carpenter/cabinet maker are the only businesses—aside from the horse-drawn ice cream delivery wagon.

Notice the horsecar tracks? “[They’re] those of the Sixth Avenue Ferry line, which ran from the Desbrosses Street Ferry via Varick and Carmine Streets to Sixth Avenue,” states the wonderful New York Then and Now, which published the photo.

“On the extreme left is the entrance to the IRT Broadway-Seventh Avenue line subway, opened beneath Varick Street on July 1, 1918.”

The street didn’t look like this for much longer. In 1924 the 10 houses were demolished, a 12-story light-industry loft structure put in its place, as seen in the 1974 photo above, also from New York Then and Now.

The loft building casts a dark shadow over the block to this day (at right). It’s part of the no man’s land south of the West Village but a little too West for Soho that I believe is called Hudson Square.