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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James VanDerZee

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James VanDerZee, [Group in car], ca. 1920s (753.1990)

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James VanDerZee, The Actor, 1922 (853.2000)

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James VanDerZee, [Unidentified Man], ca. 1923 (650.1990)

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James VanDerZee, Escape Artist, 1924 (883.1990)

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James VanDerZee, A Pioneering Negro-Owned Grocery, 1927 (859.2000)

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James VanDerZee, [Unidentified Boy], 1927 (867.2000)

James Augustus Joseph VanDerZee was born to a middle-class family (his parents were the maid and butler for Ulyssses S. Grant) in Lenox, Massachusetts, in 1896. A trained violinist and pianist, he was a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance. His photographs documented twentieth-century Harlem, the largest black community in the United States at that time. For six decades VanDerZee photographed the ordinary man as well as the most celebrated and famous: Marcus Garvey, Bojangles Robinson, Countee Collen, Bill Cosby, Basquiat. But it was the ordinary man whom he photographed the most. Through his lens he captured the citizens of Harlem in lodges and clubs, weddings and funerals. He made studio portraits of actors, political figures, artists, soldiers, church groups, or people who simply wanted a photograph of themselves in elegant attire.

He owned a studio in Harlem from 1916 to 1983. Often his focus was the black middle class and his photographs showed the upward mobility and status of a people in transition. Everyone flocked to VanDerZee’s studio. VanDerZee’s realistic representation of the Harlem community countered the often stereotypical and offensive caricature views of African Americans. His photographs earnestly visualize the pride and beauty of the African American community. His dreamlike, romantic tableaux grab hold of the imagination. His prolific documentation of this time and place is unmatched: 100,000 photographic prints, negatives, and glass plates that archive black life in America.

VanDerZee’s strength lies in the classicism of his studio portraiture. He made images with extreme precision and technique as well as with compositions that were sensitive to light and texture. He often styled and posed his clients with props and costumes. His sets included architectural elements and elaborate backdrops reminiscent of a Hollywood stage. He was a master re-toucher and often created a sense of glamor with the use of handtinting and other darkroom techniques. The tones and textures in his portraits paid homage to Old Masters paintings. All of this allowed him to push his craft and become a successful and sought after photographer.

Sixty years after he disappeared into obscurity, the artworld came calling for photographs for the exhibition Harlem on My Mind at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1969. Photographer Reginald McGhee, the exhibition’s director of photographic research, had rediscovered VanDerZee’s archive in the late 1960s. After VanDerZee’s death in 1983, a major retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, in 1993 recognized him as the premier chronicler of Harlem life.

–Nona Faustine Simmons ICP-Bard 2013

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Seen on the Street

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Leon Levinstein, [Women, India], ca. 1979 (2008.94.5)

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Leon Levinstein, [Man on bicycle] (2010.113.10)

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Leon Levinstein, St. Marks Place, 1968 (2011.53.5)

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Leon Levinstein, Times Square, 1985 (2011.53.33)

Street photographer Leon Levinstein (American, 1910-1988) came to New York in the 1940s and studied under Harper’s Bazaar artistic director Alexey Brodovich and Photo League founder Sid Grossman. By 1950, he had begun photographing people on the street, a practice he would continue for the rest of his life.

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