City as a Canvas

Ernst Haas, Graffiti, May 1974, (145.1976)

Joseph Rodriquez, Cindy, Spanish Harlem, 1988, (41.2002)

Charles H. Traub, Canarise, Brooklyn, 1988, (452.1991)

New York City has endured a rich history with graffiti as both a symbol of the city’s struggle with crime and poverty as well as a grand statement of self-expression for the artists involved. In the 1970’s, while faced with some of its most turbulent years, graffiti exploded onto almost every inch of New York City. Artists began “bombing” buildings and subway cars with signature tags using marker and spray paint. Becoming “all-city”, tagging their names in all five boroughs, was an ultimate goal among artists who sought to gain credibility. By the mid-seventies artists began creating “masterpieces” or large pieces of cohesive artwork on entire subway cars that required extensive planning and pre-made stencils. As artists developed their style, competition grew and every inch of the city became a canvas.

A long battle commenced in 1972 as Mayor John Lindsay sought to diminish the acts of vandalism throughout the city that continued for decades and across several administrations. Campaigns to control the graffiti problem sought to actively replace or paint over any artwork created, especially those found on subway cars. Increased police presence also strained the artist’s ability to create work without being caught and subsequently arrested for vandalism. By 1989 the last of graffiti bombed trains were replaced which accomanied an overall decrease in active street artists throughout the 1990’s.

The photographs above depict New Yorkers in the midst of the golden age of graffiti as well as its the aftermath in the 1980’s. Each of the photographs includes graffiti as a mere backdrop for the candid representations of their subjects. While graffiti is not at the forefront of these photographs they accurately capture New York City as a canvas for self-expression and defiance against authority.



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Reflections on Louis Faurer

Louis Faurer, New York, ca. 1949 (2013.99.27)

“My eyes search for people who are grateful for life, people who forgive and whose doubts have been removed, who understand the truth, whose enduring spirit is bathed by such piercing white light as to provide their present and future with hope.” - Louis Faurer, October 2, 1979

Louis Faurer, N.Y.C. , ca. 1949 (2013.99.35)

A sustained exploration of the people of New York is a task undertaken by many photographers and is approached in many different ways. Among those New York City photographers, Louis Faurer’s portraits stand out as influencing such greats as Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, and Diane Arbus. Faurer presents a delicate interjection of identity and perspective into the otherwise chaotic city streets.

Louis Faurer, Eddie, New York, 1949 (2013.99.28)

Fauer’s photographic subjects range from the bizarre, the glamorous, to the oblivious, but what lies beneath each image is a deep sense of empathy and compassion.  His images reveal traces of melancholy in scenes of otherwise iconic, and boisterous city life without imposing a defined narrative. He captures moments of pause amid the boistrous city that can represent a compasionate exchange.

Louis Faurer, [Times Square, New York], 1948 (2013.99.51)

Often images of Times Square meld into an overwhelming mix of bodies and neon lights, but Louis Faurer’s compositions introduce you to individuals within the crowd, pausing to provide a moment of silence in an otherwise deafening barrage of city life.

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“Man’s Achievements on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe”

Weegee, Jet Man Flying Over Unisphere (distortion), ca. 1964 (13149.1993)

This year marks the beginning of the 50th anniversary of the 1964/1965 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York. Running in two six-month segments from April through October in 1964 and 1965, it attracted approximately 51 million visitors. With the official theme of “Peace through Understanding,” the fair was a showcase of technological innovation and a vision for the future.

Alfred Gescheidt, I.B.M. Pavilion, New York World’s Fair, 1964 (374.1984)

Notable exhibitions included the IBM Pavilion with its hydraulic grandstand or “People Wall” that lifted spectators into an egg-shaped theater to view a film on computer logic.  Simultaneously on a lower level, there were demonstrations of the latest and greatest in technological advances such as the handwriting recognition machine, at which IBM promised, “you will be amazed!”

Weegee, [Handwriting Analysis, IBM Electronic Machine, Only 50¢, You Will Be Amazed], 1964 (17838.1993)


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Snapshots of Harlem

Every year since 2002 the Studio Museum in Harlem has commissioned artists through Harlem Postcards to photograph Harlem as part of an ongoing project to discover and illuminate the cultural, political, and aesthetic diversity of the community. Their unique depictions are then produced into free limited-edition postcards. 2012 marked the 10th Anniversary of this project.

Larry MantelloWelcome To, 2007 (printed 2012) (2013.60.71)


Miguel Calderón
Purple Haze/Purple Rain, 2008 (printed 2012) (2013.60.16)


Kambui OlujimiGoing Postal, 2007 (printed 2012) (2013.60.87)


Xavier ChaSense in Front, 2007 (printed 2012) (2013.60.20)


Frank StewartGod’s Trombones, 2009 (printed 2012) (2013.60.107)


Kwaku AlstonSpring Time in Harlem, 2010 (printed 2012) (2013.60.3)


James Frank TribbleI Love You, Harlem, 2011 (printed 2012) (2013.60.115)


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Happy 4th of July!


Leonard Speier, West Side Highway, NYC, July 4, 1976 (351.1981)

For a dyn-o-mite celebration you have to see the fireworks. This year they will be over the East River and don’t forget to bring your flag!

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Canadians Abroad: Claude & Kit’s European Adventure

The first caption reads, “Just before we left home June 19, 1929”. And so begins the 67 page travel album that chronicles the summer adventures of Claude and Kit, a Toronto couple setting forth from Canada on a European vacation with friends that will take them to England, Wales, The Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and France before returning home August 26th.

Unidentified Photographer [Album of Claude and Kit's European travel photographs] page 1, June 19 – August 26, 1929 (2009.32.70)

The album begins with photos of the couple in front of their home and with friends as if to anticipate the changes that will embrace them as a result of their travels; as if somehow they will be different and this difference will be proven with a photograph before and then again after their return. It becomes part of their narrative structure, a kind of ‘Once Upon a Time’ but in picture form. And from this point the story sets forth, taking them first to Montreal where they board the ocean liner R.M.S. Aurania. Four full pages are dedicated to the ship – its moorage, stock photos of the interiors, activities on deck where people gather to play shuffleboard and sit in the sea air to wait out the crossing.

Unidentified Photographer [Album of Claude and Kit's European travel photographs] page 5, June 19 – August 26, 1929 (2009.32.70)

Then the story is punctuated. “Iceberg as seen from our ship” captions the photo inserted between the photos of the Aurania and the ones of them landing in Europe; its inclusion conjuring up what Claude and Kit may have been thinking upon its sighting. It had been seventeen years since the sinking of the Titanic and although the terror of that tragedy will have softened, to this day an iceberg in the north Atlantic remains an icon for that fateful voyage.

Claude and Kit arrive in England July 1st, 1929 and after a short stay in London set off for an extensive schedule of historical highlights throughout the English countryside that include the Thames, The Lake District, Wordsworth’s grave, a multitude of Castles, Anne Hathaway’s cottage, Shakespeare’s birth and death place, Wales, Oxford, Canterbury, to name but a few, before setting off across the English Channel for the Netherlands.

Unidentified Photographer [Album of Claude and Kit's European travel photographs] page 28, June 19 – August 26, 1929 (2009.32.70)

In the Netherlands they are charmed by the seaside, the canals, the architecture and the Dutch locals. The carefully annotated album of names and places also reveal a personal relationship to the American painter John Rettig (1855 – 1932). Rettig is seen here posing with Claude and Kit in front of his studio in Volendam where he has set up a second home to paint the Dutch people and countryside. Incredibly, photos of his models are inserted here and show men and women dressed in traditional Dutch costumes. The caption reads, “Models for John Rettig, Cincinnati artist”.

Unidentified Photographer [Album of Claude and Kit's European travel photographs] page 41, June 19 – August 26, 1929 (2009.32.70)

Claude and Kit continue on at an exhaustive pace to visit a multitude of cities in Germany, Italy, Switzerland and France, each time showing a ‘last image’ as they leave the country, “Our last view of England”, “Last of Holland” etc. Finally we see them, exhausted but happy, New York bound on the R.M.S. Carmania, destined to arrive home a day later in Toronto.

We never find out how their travels abroad affected Claude and Kit and if they were wondrously and forever transformed by their experiences. Our only clues are the occasional exclamation mark and personal comment and the extensiveness by which they documented particular events or places. However we do know that when they saw the steamship heading for Europe on their return, nostalgia had already set in and it was worthy enough for a photo and caption, “Mid Atlantic – a ship bound for Europe – we all wished we were on it!

Happy Canada Day!

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42 Years Ago Today

Paul Seawright, Untitled, 1992 (3439.1992)

Saturday 1st July 1972
“One man had been shot three times in the head and neck and the other five times. The bodies of the two men were found in the cricket ground by two children at play”

(This post was created in June 2012.)

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