Early photography

Mon 07 2017 , by

Up On The Roof

From the blog of The Museum of the City of New York:

Up on the roof, entertainment en plein air

Spring in New York City is glorious.  Allergy issues aside, the season of rebirth is especially welcome after this winter’s polar vortex shenanigans.  And though I celebrate the sunny days and refreshing rain of spring, I can see the heat waves forming on the horizon.  Summer is coming and with it a suffocating wall of humidity.

One of my best strategies to beat the heat is going to the theater. Be it a movie, musical, or play,  the cool darkness of a theater combined with a few hours of entertainment is my preferred place to be on an unbearably hot day.  A hundred years ago, this wasn’t so much the case.  Without air conditioning, the heat of the lights and the crush of fellow audience members could make visiting the theater  intolerable.  Not wishing to lose business during the summer months, theater owners came up with a new strategy: the roof!

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) [Roof Garden, Madison Square Garden Theatre.] ca. 1900.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden, Madison Square Garden Theatre. ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York,

In the photograph above, a rooftop audience enjoys some light entertainment on the Madison Square Garden roof.  This MSG was located at 26th Street and Madison Avenue.  Designed by Stanford White, it was the second tallest building in the City at the time construction finished in 1890. Part of the fun for the audience was the chance to watch musical comedies and operettas from 32 stories off the ground. (Check out Mia’s early blog on the theater’s Diana statue.)

Further uptown at 44th and Broadway, the New York Theatre roof offered similar entertainment fare. The New York Theatre was originally built as the Olympia Theatre by  Oscar Hammerstein I (the grandfather of the Oscar Hammerstein from musical theater’s famous “Rodgers & Hammerstein”).

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden, New York Theatre. ca. 1901. Museum of the City of New York.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden, New York Theatre. ca. 1901. Museum of the City of New York.

Though a financial failure for Hammerstein I, the theater was only the second to be built in what would become the Times Square Theater District.  In 1895, the area was known as Longacre Square.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden, New York Theatre. ca. 1901. Museum of the City of New York,

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden, New York Theatre. ca. 1901. Museum of the City of New York,

Hammerstein I’s second effort at extravagant outdoor entertainment was the  Paradise Roof Garden at 201 West 42nd Street.  Part enclosed space and part open air, the Garden spanned the roofs of  the Victoria Theatre and the Theatre Republic next door.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). [Roof Garden, Paradise atop Hammerstein's Victoria.] ca. 1904.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Roof Garden, Paradise atop Hammerstein’s Victoria.]ca. 1901. Museum of the City of New York,

The Paradise Roof Garden was run by Hammerstein I’s son Willie.  As the noise of an ever expanding New York drifted upward, the vaudeville shows presented on the roof adapted to include wordless routines and pantomime.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) [Roof Garden, Paradise atop Hammerstein's Victoria.] ca. 1904.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Roof Garden, Paradise atop Hammerstein’s Victoria. ca.

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From Museum of the City of New York blog: Summer in the City

Now that summer is in full swing, we look back at the ways New Yorkers have either escaped or embraced the heat.

The Drive in Central Park was a place to see and be seen, particularly for the wealthiest New Yorkers, who dressed in their finest attire and rode carriages through the park.

Byron Company. Central Park: The Drive, Summer. 1894. Museum of the City of New York.

At the turn of the century, long black stockings typically accompanied women’s bathing suits (or bathing gowns, as they were called). Bathing suits became less restrictive a few years later, when women began participating in competitive swimming.

Byron Company. Sports, Bathing, Midland Beach. 1898. Museum of the City of New York.

Before air conditioning, it was not uncommon for tenement dwellers to put their mattresses on the roof and sleep through the season’s hottest nights.

John Sloan. Roofs, Summer Night. 1906. Museum of the City of New York. 82.200.1

The Jackie Robinson Pool originally opened as the Colonial Park Pool in Harlem on August 8, 1936. It was one of 11 swimming pools opened throughout the city that year and funded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a New Deal agency created to combat the Great Depression.

Sid Grossman. Federal Art Project. Colonial Park Swimming Pool, Harlem. 1939. Museum of the City of New York.

Some New Yorkers preferred water hoses to swimming pools.

United States. Office of War Information. Children spraying a hose from a porch. 1944. Museum of the City of New York. 90.28.88

Every summer, Coney Island’s boardwalk bustles with city dwellers seeking a respite from the heat.

Andrew Herman. Federal Art Project. Feeding Ice-Cream to the Dog. 1939. Museum of the City of New York.

Nathan’s Famous opened in Coney Island at Surf and Stillwell Avenues in 1916, where it still stands today and attracts scores of New Yorkers and tourists alike.

Andrew Herman. Federal Art Project. Nathan’s Hot Dog Stand, Coney Island. 1939. Museum of the City of New York.

Coney Island’s Steeplechase Park began hosting an annual poolside beauty contest called Modern Venus in 1913. Beauty contests flourished as bathing suits became skimpier.

Reginald Marsh. Modern Venus Contest at Steeplechase Park. 1939. Museum of the City of New York.

After World War II, folk singers began congregating in Washington Square. The singers and their audience clashed with some residents of the neighborhood, who thought they were a nuisance. In 1947, the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation started issuing permits for public performances in city parks. In 1961, Parks Commissioner Newbold Morris rejected folk singers’ applications to play in Washington Square. Protests ensued, culminating in a fight between the musicians and their supporters and the police seeking to clear the crowds. In the end, a compromise was reached, with folk singers being allowed in the park on Sunday afternoons.

Frederick Kelly. Musicians – Washington Square. 1962.

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The Entire History Of Photography Is Now Accessible Through An Online Database

Searchable resource contains 110,000 photographers and others involved in photographic production

Marielle Castillo

The New York Public Magazine launched an incredibly useful photographic resource. The Photographers’ Identities Catalog (PIC) is an online collection of biographical data of around 110,000 photographers, studios, dealers and others involved in photography production.

The platform covers the entire world and history of the medium, including everything from early days daguerreotypes to present day images, making it a vast and growing resource for students, historians and photography lovers.

This project has been in the making for years. For David Lowe, Photography Specialist at the New York Public Library, PIC has been central to his work at NYPL. In 2003, he began surveying and rearranging their physical collection, noting locations of their cataloged material and storing all of a photographer’s work together, arranged alphabetically.

The beautiful interface was built by the NYPL Labs team, the Library’s digital innovation unit. The map is an experimental interface that makes use of CesiumJS, a JavaScript library for 3D maps. The information was sourced from original research by the NYPL Photography staff, as well as trusted biographical dictionaries, databases, websites published by photography scholars and catalogs, as well as Wikipedia and Wikidata.

The search and filtering options are pretty impressive. A quick search for any photographer yields a great amount of information, from basic stats like dates of birth and active years, but it can also reveal more specific details, including a map of where the photographer was active, the art collections that own the photographer’s work around the world, the photographic processes used, and more. Since the search engine is equipped with many filters, PIC is also great for exploring specific interests.

While PIC is the latest online resource for photographic information, it’s not the only one. Similar databases include Yale’s Photogrammar and the NYPL’s public domain visualization tool.

The Photographers’ Identities Catalog (PIC)

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Retronaut’s New York

A pop-up exhibition of historic panoramas of New York City

“Greetings fellow time-travellers – my Retronautic time-machine is touching down on New York City’s 5th Avenue, and it will be delivering an extraordinary cargo of panoramic pictures of NYC – of more than one hundred years ago.” – The Retronaut, Wolfgang Wild.

That’s right, from February 25th, for a limited time, visitors are able to see the exhibition, Retronaut’s New York, in the lobby space of Premier Exhibitions 5th Avenue at 37th Street, New York; and even better, this special “pop up exhibition” is free to the public.

1902: The Sunday Parade, Fifth Avenue (Library of Congress)

Retronaut’s Wolfgang Wild has selected a set of extraordinary panoramic photographs capturing New York City more than a hundred years ago to create an exhibition that is unique. Each photograph has been painstakingly digitally cleaned and restored from the versions held by the Library of Congress, the results wiping away the decay of time and rendering the scenes of New York City into contemporary monochrome. These widescreen images should not, our minds tell us, exist – they are not the small, sepia and faded snapshots of the past that we expect to see. The images we see are on the same scale as our present, and – extraordinarily – over a century old.

1902: A scene in the ghetto (Library of Congress)

At the centre of the historic panoramas is a quite extraordinary image – a “Timescape” of Times Square created by Dynamichrome’s Jordan Lloyd. Lloyd has woven together fragments from Times Square’s hundred year history into a seamless and spectacular image where decades cascade into one another. The hypnotic result is a beautiful and surreal panoramic photograph, simultaneously instantly familiar and disconcertingly anachronistic at once.

1902: Manhattan Beach (Library of Congress)

Come along, and witness history before your very eyes!

Retronaut’s New York is presented in co-operation with Mashable, and produced by SC Exhibitions. For more about Retronaut visit: And for Dynamichrome, see:

This pop-up exhibition of extraordinary, digitally restored photographs captures New York City at the turn of the 20th century. It’s only open until May 15, so be sure to get down there before it’s gone.

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Alice Austen House presents: New Eyes On Alice Austen
Thursday, March 31, 2016 7–8:30 pm

Location: Floor Three, Susan and John Hess Family Theater, Whitney Museum of Art, 99 Gansevoort Street, Manhattan, NY.

This roundtable discussion explores the early street photography and charged domestic imagery of Alice Austen (1866–1952). The panel focuses on themes of the New Woman, professional versus amateur photography, gender roles, same-sex relationships, immigration, and New York City history.

Speakers include Lillian Faderman (Lesbian and LGBT historian, and author of The Gay Revolution), Sarah Kate Gillespie (Curator of American Art at the Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia), Richard Meyer (Robert and Ruth Halperin Professor in Art History, Stanford University), Lara Vapnek (Associate Professor of History, St. John’s University), and Laura Wexler (Professor of American Studies, Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Yale University).

This event is presented in celebration of Women’s History Month and Alice Austen’s 150th birthday.

Tickets are required ($8 adults; $6 members, students, and seniors).

The Alice Austen House keeps the daring spirit of the early American photographer alive by presenting changing exhibitions of Alice Austen’s pioneering photographs alongside works by contemporary photographers, and providing art education and a range of cultural programs. Austen and her partner Gertrude Tate spent nearly thirty years together in the Austen family’s home, a one-room Dutch farmhouse from c. 1690 with later Victorian additions. The Alice Austen House stands in a waterfront park on the shore of Staten Island with sweeping views of Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.


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from Creative Boom: Photographs of everyday life in 1950s New York City discovered in an attic 45 years later

“The vintage photographs you’re about to see have an interesting history. They all came from a cardboard box filled with negatives that was unopened and virtually forgotten for over 45 years. When undiscovered photographer Frank Larson passed away in 1964, his wife Eleanora boxed up all of their possessions and moved out of their retirement home in Lakeville, Connecticut. The box of negatives was one of these items, and it has remained with the family ever since, tucked away in storage.

That was until, Carole Larson – the widow of Frank’s youngest son David – and her son Soren were sorting though old boxes in their attic and found the negatives.

Soren said: “I had seen a few examples of my grandfather’s photography over the years and always admired them – our old family photo albums have a few small prints of his work in them. My father also used to speak with admiration about his father’s love of photography and his weekend trips with his Rolleiflex into the city to film places like the Bowery, Chinatown and Times Square.

“But when I opened the box and began to explore what was inside I was truly shocked at the quality and range of the images, as well as the effort, dedication and love he brought to the task. When Frank died in 1964, I was only three years old, and too young to remember this gentle, careful man.”

Inside the box were over 100 envelopes filled with mostly medium-format, 2 1/4″ x 2 1/4″ negatives. The packets were marked by date and location, carefully sealed and left exactly as he packed them 50 years ago. Soren added: “As I began unsealing each packet and holding the negatives up to the light, it was like a trip back in time, back to the New York of the early ’50s.”

Following the discovering, Soren built a website in dedication to his grandfather, sharing the negatives-turned-photographs with the rest of the world. You can view more of Frank Larson’s amazing photography at “…

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from Untapped Cities:

“Researching our latest article on street photography Harvey Stein, we read New-York Historical Society’ curator Marilyn Kushner’s introduction to Stein’s new book Briefly Seen New York Street LifeKushner traces Stein’s place in the lineage of New York City street photographers, beginning with one of the earliest known photographs of New York City, a 1839-1840 daguerreotype of the Unitarian Church in downtown Manhattan shot by Samuel F.B. Morse and John Draper.

1839, we thought? This is far before the 1848 date for the Upper West Side photograph. And, it was taken by telegraph inventor Samuel Morse, then a professor of painting and sculpture at New York University and John William Draper, an inventory and chemist who founded NYU’s school of medicine. Gizmodo writes that the daguerrotype technology came over from France to New York in 1839, which makes sense given that Morse visited Louis Daguerre in Paris that same year. In fact, most of the early photographs taken by Daguerre were destroyed in a fire at his home and studio while Morse was visiting. Morse also wrote a letter to the New York Observer (his brother was the founder of the publication) describing the invention, causing quite a stir in America.

Furthermore, this Unitarian Church daguerrotype still exists – it’s in the Photographic History Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. The Smithsonian notes that the photograph was taken either in the fall of 1839 or the winter of 1840. Morse’s notebook on his experimentations with the daguerrotype is in the Library of Congress (scanned here) begins in January 1840.

Morse and Draper took many more, but Draper’s known photos from 1839 to 1840 focused on portraits and scientific matters. In 1840, he was the first person to take a photograph of an astronomical item – the moon. Were there more streetscapes? In one entry in January 1840, Morse notes that he took a view of City Hall and in February an exterior view towards Brooklyn, but his experimentations at this time were mostly for naught: “Result: Nothing!” he writes several times. After more failures, on February 12th he writes, “partially succeeded in distance, view towards Brooklyn.” Soon after that, Morse focused his energies on the telegraph.

Where might these early photographs be, if they still exist? We’re still looking but for now, it looks like Morse’s Unitarian Church image may likely beat out the Upper West side one for the title of “oldest known” photograph of New York City.

The author @untappedmich is also the author of the book Broadway, a collection of nearly 200 vintage photographs recounting the history of NYC’s famous street Broadway.“…

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from Spoiled NYC: Have You Ever Wondered What NYC’s Streets Looked Like Way Back in 1855?

You thought the library was supposed to be boring, right? Well, not when the New York Public Library messes around and comes up with some cool stuff for the web.

People seemed to dig the interactive map of Manhattan in 1609 we posted recently, and we have to admit: we did too. Sure, you expect that wherever you search, the results will inevitably be “nature,” but that’s what’s mind blowing about it.

A map of New York City’s businesses as of 1855.  Ever wonder how long your bodega has actually been on that corner? What was there before it?

Now you can see what was what. And all thanks to the NYPL’s Mauricio Giraldo, who compiled a ton of data from the Library’s stacks of maps from 1855.

It’s not just businesses, either. There are horse stables (that’s right, stables used to be all over the place), churches, and lots more.


via Codepen

This is simply another great way to get to know the City throughout time.

Granted, New York City is not that old compared to many other places around the world. But it is a fact that since the Dutch arrived in the early 1600s, it’s all all been going down right there in these streets.

So now check out this amazing map right here. (You might be especially surprised by how many schools there were in Manhattan back in the day.)

Explore Manhattan Way Back in 1609 With This Amazing Interactive Map

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12:00pm– 4:00pm

Vintage Camera Day

Have fun with the art of vintage photography! Explore how Alice Austen took and processed photographs; learn about the cyanotype printing progress; visit the “Camera Doctor” to get your vintage cameras back up and running; and take part in our #AliceAustenEveryday photo series by taking photographs of the house and grounds with vintage cameras. FREE

1:00pm How Alice Austen captured and processed images: vintage photography demonstration with Imara Moore
2:30pm Cyanotype demonstration with Ed Coppola and Doug Schwab

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From “New York’s Most Useful Citizen” E-Mail Newsletter from Museum of the City of New York:

Now on View

Jacob A. Riis: Revealing New York’s Other Half

His images still shock – and demand our attention. Through his pioneering photojournalism, Jacob A. Riis illuminated the squalid living conditions of New York City’s poor, from the cellars of Ludlow Street to the barracks of Mott Street at the turn of the 20th century.

Our Riis retrospective opened this week to critical acclaim, and serves as a precursor to Affordable New York: A Housing Legacy, with Riis as one of the city’s early champions of housing reform. His photos, articles, and illustrated lectures of the slums prompted fellow reformer Theodore Roosevelt to call Riis “New York’s most useful citizen.” They also provide a unique lens for viewing New York’s persistent, ongoing struggles with inequality.

This is the first major retrospective of Riis’s photographic work in the U.S. in more than six decades, and for the first time unites his photographs and his archive, which belongs to the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library. Plan your visit.

Riis Photo Collection

Our Jacob A. Riis Collection encompasses more than 1,000 photos and serves as the sole archive of Riis’s images. Browse the collection.

New Book Release
Jacob A. Riis: Revealing New York’s Other Half

The first comprehensive study and complete catalogue of Riis’s world-famous images, curator Bonnie Yochelson’s newly released book places him at the forefront of early-20th-century social reform photography. It is the culmination of more than two decades of research on Riis, assembling materials from five repositories (the Riis Collection at the Museum of the City of New York, the Library of Congress, the New-York Historical Society, the New York Public Library, and the Museum of South West Jutland, Denmark) as well as previously unpublished photographs and notes.Price: $65
Members save 20%

Upcoming Jacob A. Riis Public Programs

Examining Urban Poverty Today, A Century after Riis

Weds., Nov. 4, 6:30 pm

Join us for a panel exploring the legacy of Riis’s journalism and photography on the work of contemporary activists committed to raising public consciousness about urban poverty. Panelists include historian and Riis expert Daniel Czitrom leads a discussion with New York Times journalist Andrea Elliott, Mark Levitan, formerly of the Center for Economic Opportunity, Nancy Wackstein of United Neighborhood Houses, and historian Craig Steven Wilder.
Tickets: FREE for members, $12 & up for all others

Danish Modernity: Jacob Riis and Vilhelm Hammershøi in 1900

Mon., November 16, 6:30 pm

Join two art historians and experts on Riis and Hammershøi, Bonnie Yochelson (exhibition curator) and Thor Mednick, for an exploration of their work. After their presentations, Danish Ambassador Anne Dorte Riggelson will lead a conversation about Riis and Hammershoi’s contrasting lives and perspectives.
Tickets: FREE for members, $12 & up for all others

A Victorian Christmas Magic-Lantern Show with the American Magic-Lantern Theater

Sun., Dec. 6, 3:00 pm

Celebrate this holiday season with a magic lantern performance – a technique used by Jacob Riis – that features Hans Christian Anderson’s famous Christmas story, “The Little Match Girl,” and holiday carols like “O Holy Night.” Perfect for families with kids ages 6 and up.

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