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black and white photos of New York City

If time travel were possible, someone visiting New York City during late November through December 100 years ago would find familiar scenes: these 17 photos show how those living in New York City between 1900 and 1915 shopped and stocked up for the holiday season. Despite the pervasiveness of online shopping in modern times, New Yorkers still crowd sidewalks and public places, and do their share of in-person shopping before the holidays. Special, temporary “holiday markets” have become increasingly popular, despite the great improvements made to online shopping in recent years. While those photos from the previous century seem to show that commercialism wasn’t as rampant as it is today, the late 19th century saw the trappings we now associate with Christmas start to spread to all levels of society, although with less thoroughness than in our times. There were some cultural differences, though. Apparently, Christmas postcards were big.

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From Hyperallergic:


Aerial view up the East River (May 27, 1960, photo by Theodore V. Donaldson)
Aerial view up the East River (May 27, 1960, photo by Theodore V. Donaldson) (all images courtesy NYC Municipal Archives)

The Brooklyn waterfront is radically changing. The Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg is transforming into residential and commercial space, both inside its hollowed-out brick building and outside with new glassy high-rises. Towers are pending for long-quiet Greenpoint. And Brooklyn Bridge Park is altering the former industrial area of Dumbo and Brooklyn Heights with green space and, naturally, condos. It’s from the perspective of that park that the NYC Municipal Archives examined the East River shore’s long history of change.

A Century on the Brooklyn Waterfront was one of the shipping container exhibitions at Photoville, held earlier this month in the Pier 5 Uplands in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Curated by Public Records Officer Quinn Berkman and Paper and Archival Conservator Cynthia Brenwall, the exhibition drew on the NYC Municipal Archives’ 221,000 cubic feet of material, particularly its collections on the WPA Federal Writers’ and Art projects (1935–43) and the Department of Bridges (1901–39).

“The ability to appreciate what parks were before they were public recreational areas is important, and the Brooklyn Bridge Park is so relevant because the transformation is so recent,” Berkman told Hyperallergic. Many of the photographs were printed from glass plate negatives, and date from between 1870 and 1974, revealing the rise of the Brooklyn Bridge, and the concentration of maritime commercial activity on the Brooklyn piers long before they were replaced with parks.

View of Lower Manhattan from the Brooklyn Tower of the Brooklyn Bridge (1890)
View of Lower Manhattan from the Brooklyn Tower of the Brooklyn Bridge (1890) (click to enlarge)

“I think it is important to remember that Brooklyn was the heart of the city’s import business,” Berkman explained. “What is now seen as real estate opportunity was once used purely for the ports and trade industry.” It was only in the 1970s that the area was designated as a landmarked neighborhood and the repurposing of warehouses began. “It’s pretty incredible because once the Brooklyn Bridge opened, this part of Brooklyn was considered Manhattan’s first suburb, however by the 60s it cycled back into an industrial zone and now it is back to being a residential neighborhood,” she added.

The NYC Municipal Archives has recently been making more of its photographs accessible online, from the documentation of the NYPD’s “Alien Squad,” which monitored potentially subversive political groups in the 1930s and ’40s, to the around 30,000 crime photographs from 1914 to 1975 released earlier this year. As the photographs were taken for municipal government use — during the construction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway or the renovation of the Brooklyn Piers, for instance — some of the creators’ names are now lost. In addition to their original purposes, they now form an essential record of the city’s changing character.

“These photographs are not just ‘iconic’ images of old NYC, they are used to understand and preserve the history of the city,” Berkman said. “Photography is one of the best mediums to use to tell a story and send a message, which is also why it has just as complex of a history as New York does.”

View of the Manhattan Bridge from Jay and York Streets (January 4, 1912, photo by Eugene de Salignac)
View of the Manhattan Bridge from Jay and York Streets (January 4, 1912, photo by Eugene de Salignac)
Aerial view of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and Atlantic Avenue (September 19, 1956)
Aerial view of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and Atlantic Avenue (September 19, 1956)
Aerial view taken above Atlantic Avenue and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. 1 Brooklyn Bridge Park was once home to the New York Dock Company. (September 19, 1956) (photo by Theodore V. Donaldson)
Aerial view taken above Atlantic Avenue and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

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From Flushing Town Hall:

Taking it to the Streets: 1950s NY through the Lens of Flushing Photographer Frank Oscar Larson

June 25th, 2017 – August 6th, 2017

Taking it to the Streets: 1950s NY through the Lens of Flushing Photographer Frank Oscar Larson

tickets

Before cell phones documented nearly every aspect of daily life, street photographers captured the humble, the mundane, and the ordinary. Flushing resident Frank Larson documented New York in the 1950s. When we view Larson’s work 60 years later, we still see ourselves, even if New York has changed around us.

Opening Reception: SUN, JUNE 25, 1-3 PM Lecture: WED, JUNE 28, 6-8 PM

 

Photography Tour & Lesson: SUN, JULY 9 & 16, 2 PM (more info here)

 

Gallery Dates: SUN, JUNE 25 – SUN, AUG 6

 

Gallery Hours: SAT & SUN, 12-5 PM

 

 

$5 Suggested Donation/FREE for Members & Students 

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