Let’s Have a Gas

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Esther Bubley, The City Cafe, Tomball, Texas, 1943-50 (126.1983)

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Harold Corsini, Street Scene, Cushing, Oklahoma, 1943-50 (94.1983)

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Harold Corsini, Farmers Shopping in Purcell, Oklahoma, 1946 (99.1983)

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Harold Corsini, Fire Department Personnel, Cushing, Oklahoma, ca. 1946 (98.1983)

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Todd Webb, Saturday Morning at 6th and Main, Monroe, Louisiana, 1947 (199.1983)

The Standard Oil Company was founded in 1870 by John D. Rockefeller and Henry Flagler. The company quickly secured a monopoly by controlling all necessities within their production, from purchasing a white pine reserve in order to manufacture barrels to  striking an insidious deal with railroad companies that secured the affordable transportation of crude. In Rockefeller’s lifetime, Standard Oil made over one billion dollars in profits. In 1911, however, the Supreme Court, under the Sherman Antitrust Act, ordered all trust companies of Standard Oil to become separate entities.

Following the company’s transgressions onto the fertile grounds of healthy capitalist competition, Standard Oil never quite recovered from the resulting dip in public opinion. In 1942, Assistant Attorney General Thurman W. Arnold accused Standard Oil of New Jersey of participating in cartel relations with German company I.G. Farbenindustrie. Further, prior to the war, Jersey Standard had developed a joint operation with I.G. Farben to research and develop the manufacture of synthetic oil from coal—a process that became integral to Germany’s war efforts due to a lack of domestic drilling.

To combat the dismal public opinion the mega company faced, Jersey Standard looked to the services of public relations guru Earl Newsom. Newsom considered securing the approval of millions a waste of resources, arguing instead that a strong public relations campaign need only focus on the thousands of white-collar “opinion leaders” who possessed a greater sphere of influence. According to Newsom, these intellectuals, executives, and professors were as conscious of the arts as they were influential. Thus, if Standard Oil used the arts to bolster the opinions of these well-educated “thought leaders,” the American public would follow suit.

Inspired by the success of the photographs of downtrodden rural areas across the country used to lobby for New Deal efforts, Jersey Standard reached out to Roy Stryker, the brains behind the now infamous Farm Security Administration photographs. Standard seduced self-proclaimed populist Stryker with the argument that he could show an “honest picture of the state of the U.S.” Stryker finally left his full-time position with the government in 1943 in order to undertake his project, which would become the largest documentary photography endeavor outside of any government initiative. Seeking to depict the importance of oil to American middle class life, photographers on the project set out for specific locations within Jersey Standard’s sphere of influence—namely New England and the western United States. Stryker set a goal of producing over 25,000 photographs for Standard Oil’s files. The images, however, scarcely left these files, as Stryker was far more adept at commissioning images than he was circulating them. At best, the photographs were distributed to magazines, newspapers, and textbooks upon request. In 1948, the project drew to a close, as the efforts of the production and dissemination of Stryker’s images rendered inconclusive results.

The failure of the images to appear in an influential art context was perhaps a reflection on documentary photography’s status as separate from the arts. Over time, however, the images accumulated historical value; and in 1983, the International Center of Photography brought these images to light with the exhibition Roy Stryker: USA, 1943-1950. Most of these images are as related to oil as they are to any other facet of American life at the time. Among the scores of images of lucrative American farms and city infrastructures are photographs of groups of people socializing. While these photographs sought to affirm Jersey Standard’s positive influence on the quality of people’s lives, the photographs ultimately offer an idiosyncratic glimpse at late- and post-WWII America, ironically furnished by one of the most treasonous corporations of the era.

Kate Levy ICP-Bard 2013

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Hit the Sack?

Or at least try to hit the balcony…

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Weegee, [Tenement sleeping during heat spell, Lower East Side, New York], May 23, 1941 (139.1982)

Some people hit the place where they work.

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Weegee, [Man sleeping on shoe shine stand], ca. 1950 (17713.1993)

A few children hit the street.

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Lisa Larsen, Saigon–Vietnam, ca. 1955 (2008.4.83)

Hitting a box could be easier for a child…

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Cornell Capa,  [Woman looking at boy sleeping in box on street, San Salvador], 1970-73 (CI.8794)

Others hit the rolls instead…

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Weegee, [Asleep in the Garment District, New York], (14846.1993)

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The World of Tomorrow

The 1939 World’s Fair took place in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens. One of the main exhibits of the fair was “The World of Tomorrow,” which explored the idea of what cities would look like in the future. The design was based off of Corbusian design and theory, which was originally created as a redevelopment project for Paris, but could have been placed in any city. Another main factor of “The City of Tomorrow” was the multiple-lane highways that intersected all of the super blocks and high rises, which originated with the idea that cars were the future.

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PM, August 28, 1940 (2007.15.82)
This idea of the perfect city was exhibited in an outer borough that is known for its most
diverse population in the world and range of economic income. The photographs and
artifacts exhibited in this online exhibition show the contradictory nature of the World’s
Fair, which is discussed in the PM newspaper artifact, in context of the lack of
architectural and industrial development and the economic and social conditions of the
people in Queens. These comparisons are all developed through the specific images of
Queens available through the archive, which are extremely limited.

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Madoka Takagi, Long Island City, Queens, 1990 (2009.103.32)

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Madoka Takagi, Howard Beach, Queens, 1990 (2009.103.17)

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Madoka Takagi, LIRR Yard from Queens Blvd., 1990 (2009.103.27)
The images of Long Island City, Howard Beach, and the LIRR yard were all taken approximately fifty years after the World’s Fair. The idea of “The World of Tomorrow” is questioned through the lack of progress and urban development in the architectural images of Queens. These three photographs show a dilapidated building in a harbor of Long Island City, the rail yard which was developed long before 1990, and Howard Beach flooded. These images speak nothing to the idea of the super highways and highrises heralded during the World’s Fair.

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Martin Munkacsi, [Woman in swimming costume, World's Fair, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, New York], 1939 (2007.110.2241)

Brenda Ann Kenneally, Money Power Respect: Pictures of my Neighborhood

Brenda Ann Kenneally, Rikers Island, Queens, NY, from the series Money Power Respect: Pictures of My Neighborhood, 2001 (2007.19.6)

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Andrew Savulich, Teenagers arrested for knocking over 838 tombstones inside Queens Cemetery, 1991 (367.1994)
The same contradictory nature occurs through the depiction of people at the World’s
Fair in context of people living in Queens. The image of the woman in a bathing suit at
the World’s Fair contrasts with the images of Rikers Island, teenagers being arrested, and
working class families all depicted in the other photographs.

Lynley Bernstein, ICP-Bard 2013

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About Cleaning

William Henry Fox Talbot published The Pencil of Nature in 1844. This book, the first photographically illustrated publication that was commercialized, contained twenty-four calotypes. A short text, describing the picture and its photographic process, accompanied each plate. The Open Door is one of the most widely admired compositions and it appeared as plate number 6.

The photograph is a subtle play on interior and exterior. The interest of the photographer was not only an attempt to capture light and shadows, but also the form and the texture of the barn facade. However, the center of this composition, and the main subject of his picture, is a humble broom, which is the vehicle for his photographic essay. The ordinary and simple nature of this object has captured my attention and my thoughts in these days, not only because is spring cleaning, but also because of a series of coincidences.

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Lee Sievan, Owner Moves You Free, 1940s (8.1990)

A very detailed book Picking up: On the Streets and behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City (Macmillan, 2013) has been recently  published.  The writer, Robin Nagle, has been an anthropologist-in-residence at New York City’s Department of Sanitation since 2006, and is also a professor of anthropology and urban studies at New York University. Her book is an extremely accurate and complete description of how Gotham’s garbage is managed. She introduces us to sanitation workers of all ranks, men and woman, uniformed workers who take care of our garbage. In 280 pages, she investigates the most important job in a city that generates the highest quantity of garbage in the United States.

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Danny Lyon, Eddie Grant and Cleveland Sims. Washington Street maintenance men from the New York City Department of Urban Renewal, 1967 (2010.116.22)

Keeping in mind New York’s uniformed forces–”New York’s Strongest” as they are nicknamed–I have been thinking about who cleans our houses and offices and how they do it. How has the broom been transformed over the last few decades? These thoughts made me wish to see how industrial and domestic technologies have transformed the daily life of a housewife and the work of running a home.

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Nina Leen, [Housewife Marjorie McWeeney amid symbolic display of her week's housework], 1947 (1037.2005)

Another book  about “cleaning,” Laundromat (powerHouse Books, 2013) is mostly pictures. Unlike Nagel’s text-heavy took, this one has only a brief introduction and contains 187 photographs taken by Snorri Sturluson from 2008 to 2012 and represents all five of New York’s boroughs and most of its neighborhoods. The Laundromat’s charm, as the magic in the Talbot’s broom, is captured in Sturluson’s pictures with typology, most famously utilized by Bernd and Hilla Becher and later others including Hans-Peter Feldman, Ed Ruscha, Tomas Ruff, and Andreas Gursky. His style is rigidly uniform, in contrast with the evocative Bill Wood image of a laundromat from 1960, and represents the generic identity of this typically American and British subject.

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Bill Wood, [Interior of laundromat], 1960 (2010.14.89)

As we had seen in ICP’s exhibition Bill Wood’s Business, Wood largely captured the technology innovation during the boom years that followed World War II, but how often have you seen a “swiffer” in photography with the same sensitive observation used by Danny Lyon to represent a radiator, a chair, or a familiar object?

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Bill Wood, [Floor Inc. employees demonstrating the company services], 1963 (2010.14.163)

Who will be the next photographer that will describe a vacuum cleaner robot with Talbot’s poetic qualities? Furthermore, who will be able to capture domotics in photography as Emily Dickinson domesticated the Mother Nature through the cleaning metaphor in the poemShe sweeps with many-colored brooms (Mother Nature, Nature)?

“… And still she plies her spotted brooms,

And still the aprons fly,

Till brooms fade softly into stars–

And then I come away.”

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Up with the Larks!

International Dawn Chorus Day – May 5, 2013

Richard Tepe, Aquatic Warble Near Her Nest with Young, June 25, 1935

International Dawn Chorus Day is held annually on the first Sunday in May, and aims to encourage the public to rise early and listen to bird song at organized events. The first ever event was held at Moseley Bog in Birmingham, England in 1984, by the Urban Wildlife Trust.

Richard Tepe, Two Newly-born White Birds Facing Frontward, ca. 1910–40

You don’t need to own binoculars or be an avid “twitcher” (bird watcher) to appreciate the awe inspiring vocal arrangements of your native birds this spring, but you will need to be an early bird if you want to catch your worm (as the saying goes). In the UK, the dawn chorus can begin as early as 4am, and is usually kicked off by the blackbirds and the robins, who are joined by wrens, tawny owls, chaffinches, and finally the pheasants, warblers, song thrushes, dunnocks, and finches to complete the awesome early morning crescendo. The main purpose of the singing is to defend territory and attract mates as the night gives way to the day, and is most audible in Spring-time when the mating season is in full swing.

Robert Capa, [Soldier of the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM) with dove, Aragón, Spain], August 1936

Although most popular in the UK, there will be hundreds of events hosted internationally in celebration of local bird populations. In the US, the Friends of Congeree Swamp organized the first Dawn Chorus in the park in 2005, and will be hosting it for the seventh time this year. Congeree Swamp is an especially good venue for the Dawn Chorus because the park (formerly Congaree Swamp National Monument) is one of the best birding places in the United States and has been officially named a Globally Important Bird Area by the American Bird Conservancy and Birdlife International.

Insert image: Richard Tepe, Mother Feeding Her Children in Her Nest, ca. 1910–40

You can listen to the UK Dawn Chorus here.

I shall be donning my Wellington boots and venturing out on Sunday May 5th to hear the birds waking up in Norfolk, followed by a hearty breakfast (as is the tradition at these events)! You can find organized events in your area in the IDC listings here.

Weegee, [Man feeding pigeons in Washington Square Park, New York], ca. 1944

[3] http://www.nps.gov/cong/index.htm

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Deanna Durbin, 1921-2013

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Martin Munkacsi, [Deanna Durbin and man], 1930s (2007.110.2002)

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Propaganda

Propaganda can serve multiple means. It can help advance a progressive cause, it can challenge our own beliefs and assumptions or reinforce stereotypes. Photography is a very malleable tool, which, often combined with words, can serve such aims effectively.

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Barbara Kruger, Pope Fetus I, ca. 1990 (6.2001)

Barbara Kruger uses tools of the advertising industry effectively to get across a message, in this case to highlight one of the obstacles to the empowerment of a woman’s control over her body–the Catholic Church and Cardinal O’Connor–at the height of the culture wars in 1990.

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Artists’ Poster Committee of the Art Workers’ Coalition, And Babies?, 1970 (813.2002)

The Artists’ Poster Committee of the Art Workers’ Coalition is most famous for their And Babies? poster

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A.R.T., Hanoi–Its the Same War–Kent, 1970 (2011.68.277)

This poster highlights a pivotal moment of the antiwar movement in the US, after the May 4, 1970 massacre at Kent State.

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fierce pussy, We Just Really Enjoy Each Other, 1991-95 (1155.2000)

fierce pussy is a collective of queer woman artists, who became active in the early 1990s in the context of AIDS activism. Their output of posters find clever ways of celebrating and affirming dykedom.

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Signal, March 1941 (2008.72.7)

Signal was a Nazi propaganda magazine published by the Wehrmacht with a layout similar to LIFE magazine, which promoted a cheerful view of fascist Germany and an anti-bolshevik united Europe under Teutonic hegemony. It was published for neutral, allied, and occupied countries. At one point, it reached a circulation of 2.5 million in twenty-five editions.

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Weegee, [Nikita Khrushchev], ca. 1960 (193.1981)

After retiring as a photojournalist, Weegee started making distortions. He continued using his skills in the darkroom and self-invented distortion lenses to comment irreverently on the famous personalities of his day, thus providing an antidote to propaganda.

Alp Klanten, ICP-Bard 2013

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