Tag Archives: Negatives

Berenice Abbott and Elizabeth McCausland in a “Changing New York”

Archival Intern Suzanna Calev.

Archival Intern Suzanna Calev.

This week, we have a  guest post from our fabulous archival intern, Suzanna Calev, who is currently obtaining a double Master’s Degree in Library Science with a concentration in Archives Management and History at Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts. Suzanna recently completed processing Berenice Abbott’s Changing New York papers  (the finding aid is available on the Museum’s catablog for archival collections).  Suzanna’s  insights on the collection, and her experience of processing it:

Every time I return to New York, I find the city has changed.  Whether it is the demise of my favorite brunch place or the construction of a new high-rise, New York City is always changing, always re-inventing itself.  Being a native of the city, I should not be surprised by this, but I always have a mixed feeling of hope and nostalgia by the transformation of the city I love, missing the old stomping grounds from my childhood and hoping that the coming changes are favorable ones.

Perhaps this is exactly what the photographer Berenice Abbott felt when she returned to New York City in 1929. Originally from Springfield, Ohio, Abbott moved to Greenwich Village in 1918 with college friends. She moved to Paris in 1921 and it was there that she developed an interest in photography, working as an assistant to Man Ray. Her return to New York City was meant to be temporary, but when she saw how much the city had changed – the skyscrapers replacing nineteenth century classical columns, new towers and structures popping up all around her – she decided to move back permanently to capture this transformation through the lens of a camera.  For more information on Abbott’s life,  as well as the Changing New York  project, take a look at the finding aid for Berenice Abbot’s Changing New York papers.

40_140_0191_recto-copy

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). “Park Avenue and 39th Street,” 1936. Museum of the City of New York. 40.140.91

After photographing the city independently for six years, unable to get financial support from organizations, foundations, or private individuals, she was finally hired by the Federal Art Project (FAP), a small division of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) formed in 1935 to centralize various public work projects. The FAP was a relief agency for artists and supported the work of many painters, photographers, and printers, including Romare Bearden, Ben Shahn, and Lee Krasner.

In 1937 the Museum of the City of New York mounted an exhibition, Changing New York, of Abbott’s photographs for the FAP. This prompted interest in publishing a Changing New York book that would include both the photographs and captions written by Elizabeth McCausland, a writer, art critic, and Abbott’s longtime partner.

Abbott’s papers relating to the project, along with several of Abbott’s photographs from the Changing New York project, were in the custody of the Metropolitan Museum of Art prior to their transfer to the Museum of the City of New York.  The Changing New York materials appear to have been deposited with the Met as a matter of convenience, if not accident, when the FAP presented the Met with materials from another project.  Because of the City Museum’s role in the original exhibition, the Met felt the rightful home of the papers was with the City Museum and custody of the collection was transferred in 1947 along with 215 unmounted and 71 mounted photographs from the Changing New York project.

The Berenice Abbott papers contain the original captions proposed for the book and they are an absolute treasure to read.  They reveal the literary genius of McCausland, who attempted to produce cinematic effects with her descriptions of the photographs.  For example, she implored the reader to recite “like Vachel Lindsay’s train announcer” the names of various cheeses for Cheese Store on Bleecker.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). "Park Avenue and 39th Street," 1936. Museum of the City of New York. 40.140.91

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). “Cheese Store,” 1937. Museum of the City of New York. 40.140.29

Original, Unpublished captions by Elizabeth McCausland for Changing New York, "Berenice Abbott papers." Museum of the City of New York.

Original, Unpublished captions by Elizabeth McCausland for Changing New York, 1938, “Berenice Abbott Changing New York papers.” Museum of the City of New York.

E. P Dutton, the publisher of the book, foresaw many tourists visiting New York and buying guidebooks for the opening of the 1939 New York’s World Fair, so he wanted Abbott’s book to be a simple guidebook that could attract multiple audiences. As a result, he rejected McCausland’s original captions, such as the one for the Cheese Store, pictured above.  The published Cheese Store  caption below is strictly factual:

Excerpt from "Changing New York: Photographs by Berenice Abbott." New York: E.P. Dutton & Company, Inc., 1939, 84.

Excerpt from “Changing New York: Photographs by Berenice Abbott.” New York: E.P. Dutton & Company, Inc., 1939, 84.

It saddens me that Dutton didn’t use McCausland’s original captions.  The published captions lack her lyrical voice. Many of the original captions convey McCausland and Abbott’s political and social beliefs, which may have been too radical for Dutton and Co., Inc.  For example, the original caption for Gunsmith and Police Department suggested that the placement of the gun over the shop facing the police department in Abbott’s composition was intentional.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991), "Gunsmith and Police Department," 1937. Museum of the City of New York. 49.282.113

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991), “Gunsmith and Police Department,” 1937. Museum of the City of New York. 49.282.113

Original, Unpublished captions by Elizabeth McCausland for Changing New York, 1938, "Berenice Abbott Changing New York papers." Museum of the City of New York.

Original, Unpublished captions by Elizabeth McCausland for Changing New York, 1938, “Berenice Abbott Changing New York papers.” Museum of the City of New York.

McCausland’s bold caption above was replaced with a toned down version that suggested a cooperative relationship between the Police Department and Frank Lava’s gun shop:

Excerpt from "Changing New York: Photographs by Berenice Abbott." New York: E.P. Dutton & Company, Inc., 1939, 64.

Excerpt from “Changing New York: Photographs by Berenice Abbott.” New York: E.P. Dutton & Company, Inc., 1939, 64.

Although Dutton had final say over the captions, thankfully we can still see how Abbott and McCausland viewed the changing landscape of the city and how they wanted to impart these changes to the general public.  Despite the conflicting vision over the Dutton book, it is comforting to know that no matter what the era, New York City continuously surprises and mesmerizes its inhabitants.

Love in the Time of Weegee

As we continue to inventory and image the Museum’s holdings from the LOOK Magazine archives , we’ve discovered troves of images taken by famous photographers on assignment for the magazine.  Weegee is one of them.

The Museum has a handful of non-LOOK photographs depicting subjects that Weegee is mainly known for: sensational images of crime scenes.  The image below shows the bloodied corpse of Carlo Tresca, a socialist-turned-anarchist and the editor of an anti-Fascist newspaper.   Although Tresca managed to avoid multiple assassination attempts, his life came to an end while crossing Fifth Avenue and 13th Street.  A black Ford containing a squat gunman pulled up beside him and fired, shooting Tresca in the head.

Arthur (Weegee) Fellig (1899-1968). Man shining light on body of Carlo Tresca, New York.1943. Museum of the City of New York. 84.195.1

Weegee also captured police officers aiding an inebriated man.

Arthur (Weegee) Fellig (1899-1968). The Cocktail Hour. 1950. Museum of the City of New York. 84.195.4

Arthur (Weegee) Fellig (1899-1968). Policeman with wrapping paper-covered body of Lewis Sandano, New York. 1940. Museum of the City of New York. 84.195.10

The grim scene above shows the prone body of Lewis Sandano, shot and killed by policemen as he fled with a stolen overcoat.

Weegee shows a softer side in a 1948 series of photographs for LOOK showing soldiers returning from World War II and reuniting with their loved ones.

Arthur (Weegee) Fellig (1899-1968). Penn Station, 1948. Museum of the City of New York. X2012.4.10720.1

Arthur (Weegee) Fellig (1899-1968). Penn Station, 1948. Museum of the City of New York. X2012.4.10720.14

Arthur (Weegee) Fellig (1899-1968). Penn Station, 1948. Museum of the City of New York. X2012.4.10720.16

Arthur (Weegee) Fellig (1899-1968). Penn Station, 1948. Museum of the City of New York. X2012.4.10720.13

Arthur (Weegee) Fellig (1899-1968). Penn Station, 1948. Museum of the City of New York. X2012.4.10720.24

His Penn Station images are hopeful and sentimental, and the viewer’s desire to look at them is compelled by something other than the grit of humanity.  In either case, however, Weegee’s photos portray an immense love for the city and care for his subjects whether deceased or living.

“Weegee: Murder Is My Business” is on view through September 2, 2012 at the International Center of Photography. All Weegee photographs used with permission from ICP.

“Painting for fun is catching on furiously among celebrated people”

In an October, 1948 article, LOOK magazine proclaimed, “Painting for fun is catching on furiously among celebrated people. About one hundred Big Names have answered a call for help from the Urban League.  Many have picked up a paintbrush for the first time….”

Joan Crawford, Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne, Joe Louis, and many others donated their original artworks to the cause. Many, including an artistically struggling Joan Crawford who was described in LOOK as “attacking the canvas,”  allowed themselves to be documented during the harrowing creative process.

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999). Celebrities Paint for a Cause, 1948. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10653.100,101

Although we don’t have images of Lena Horne, Joe Louis, and Frank Sinatra attending the benefit show, we have pictures of the paintings they produced:

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999). Celebrities Paint for a Cause, 1948. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10653.24

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999). Celebrities Paint for a Cause, 1948. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10653.4

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999). Celebrities Paint for a Cause, 1948. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10653.2

This last image begs the question, “Can and did Frank Sinatra paint the saddest clown ever?”

Betsy Bloomingdale - international socialite, style icon, wife to the heir of the Bloomingdale’s fortune, and close confidante of Nancy Reagan – also donated her efforts:

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999). Celebrities Paint for a Cause, 1948. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10653.108

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999). Celebrities Paint for a Cause, 1948. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10653.108

Here is “boy-next-door” actor Van Johnson hard at work on a painting:


Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999). Celebrities Paint for a Cause, 1948. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10653.122

The Museum of the City of New York holds hundreds of outtakes from this shoot, images that never made it to print.  Though they were famous in their time, no one on our cataloging team recognizes the celebrities below. Do you?  Help us identify these individuals in our comments section!

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999). Celebrities Paint for a Cause, 1948. Museum of the City of New York.

The Sultry Showgirl

When Stanley Kubrick was a young man, he had the good luck to be assigned a job for LOOK Magazine that allowed him to create an intimate  photographic portrait of Rosemary Williams.

Stanley Kubrick(1928-1999). Showgirl, 1949. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.11448.62B

This story, shot in the spring of 1949, captures the young Rosemary as she transforms herself from an everyday gal into a showgirl.

Although a majority of the negatives and prints from this story show the budding Rosemary in her home, preparing coffee, lounging on a chair with a book, or praying at church, they caught my eye because of the continuous thread of theatricality.

Stanley Kubrick(1928-1999). Showgirl, 1949. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.11448.42

Kubrick was able to capture the careful construction of a personal image. Within all of these photographs, Rosemary is never out of character.  The combination of the general staged aspect of LOOK and the calculated influence from entertainment studios has created a story that is campy in nature but also emphasizes how celebrities (major and minor) painstakingly construct their own image.

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999). Showgirl, 1949. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.11448.104D

However, what becomes apparent through the constructed moments and interactions within the photos is Kubrick’s cinematic eye. Although many of the photos contain that trace, I was knocked over by the photo above, which reminds me of a still from a film.  The posed figures, purposeful illumination of the interaction between the two characters, and stark background allude to actions happening outside of the frame.

One can imagine that Rosemary was perhaps a commuting showgirl, driving back and forth every night from the depths of New Jersey.  Thank goodness Kubrick happened to be present the night her car got a flat!

Follow this link to get a dose of a fast talkin’ 50s news story about Rosemary Williams and the dastardly Sidney M. Levy.

Although the Museum has documentation that Rosemary appeared on Broadway in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1953 musical comedy, Me and Juliet, as a chorus girl alongside Shirley MacLaine, Rosemary seems to have disappeared into the fog of time. We’d love to find her or discover something about her post-showgirl life. Email us at collections@mcny.org if you have any information. You could win a free reproduction print from our collection as a thank-you!

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999). Showgirl, 1949. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.11448.99F

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999). Showgirl, 1949. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.11448.121F

Circus

Stanley Kubrick(1928-1999). Circus, 1948. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.11327

1948 was a good year for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.  The “Big Show” traveled from coast to coast with a coterie of performers and animals, encountering raving fans and sold out shows.

On May 25th of that year, LOOK Magazine ran a story about the circus with accompanying photographs by Stanley Kubrick.  He captured the many aspects of the troupe’s life on the road: rehearsing, playing cards, training animals, and their children at play.

Stanley Kubrick(1928-1999). Circus, 1948. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.11327.73

The images retain the mysticism of the circus; focusing on portraits of the performers, aero stars (possibly the famous Ming Sing group), and the workers who cherished the livelihood of ‘Big Bertha’.

Stanley Kubrick(1928-1999). Circus, 1948. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.11327.136

These images reflect my fascination with circuses from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century.  When I was an undergrad, I noticed that there was an underground revival of the Vaudeville tradition.  There were a few occasions when troupes traveled through our little college town.  These days, it is a romantic notion that people can exist within smaller, untouched pockets of society.  Even so, I like to subscribe to the ideas of those quiet rebellions.

Stanley Kubrick(1928-1999). Circus, 1948. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.11327.23

America’s intrigue with the circus has lasted over 200 years.  Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “The circus is the only ageless delight that you can buy for money.  Everything else is supposed to be bad for you.  But the circus is good for you.  It’s the only spectacle I know that, while you watch it, gives the quality of a truly happy dream.”

Stanley Kubrick(1928-1999). Circus, 1948. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.11327.36

Today, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus still tours extensively.  Although the circus now plays to sold out arenas, and is a large corporation, there are still smaller operations that retain the aesthetic and values of the early 20th century circus.  One of the most noted is the Big Apple Circus, which was recently featured in the series Circus on PBS.  It’s a fantastic series, and quite honestly made me want to hop on the road with them!  Maybe next year….

Stanley Kubrick(1928-1999). Circus, 1948. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.11327.39

The Tale of the Shoe Shine Boy

Stanley Kubrick’s 1947 pictorial for LOOK Magazine.

At the age of 13, Stanley Kubrick was given a Graflex camera by his father which triggered a fascination with still photography.  He sold his first photo to LOOK magazine when he was 17 years old and soon became a staff photographer.

Stanley Kubrick(1928-1999). Shoe Shine Boy, 1947. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10368.286

In 1947, a year after he started photographing for LOOK, Kubrick shot the story of the Shoe Shine Boy.  This pictorial contains a total of 202 images captured on 35mm film strips and medium and large format negative, most of which have never been published.

This story follows Mickey,a 12-year-old boy from Brooklyn who shines shoes for 10 cents a pop to  help support his sizable family, including nine brothers and sisters.

Stanley Kubrick(1928-1999). The Shoe Shine Boy, 1947. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10368.262

Kubrick follows Mickey throughout his day, photographing him boxing and playing basketball, going to the laundromat, interacting with his family, and shining shoes.

Even in the early stages of his professional career, Kubrick has the eye of a director.  The photographs seem artfully staged and speak about the human condition, something that Kubrick uses as a ongoing theme within his films.

Stanley Kubrick(1928-1999). The Shoe Shine Boy, 1947. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10368.230

Kubrick often spoke about his early days as a photographer and how he could not have been the filmmaker that he was without a ‘photographer’s eye’.

**Stanley Kubrick shot for LOOK magazine from 1946 to 1951.  The Museum of the City of New York has approximately 12,000 Kubrick negatives and 10,000 contact sheets. We are in the process of digitizing ALL of them!

Stanley Kubrick(1928-1999). The Shoe Shine Boy, 1947. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10368.281

To read more of an in-depth (and incredibly interesting) description of Kubrick’s days at LOOK Magazine, go to the 2005 Vanity Fair article.

Do you have information about Mickey or his family? We’d like to find him. Help us out and you could win an archival quality print from this series. Email collections@mcny.org with any information.

Stanley Kubrick(1928-1999). The Shoe Shine Boy, 1947. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10368.308