Flag Day, 2017

Unidentified Photographer, [Unidentified World War One soldier against a United States flag background], ca. 1910s (DA.1B33.22)

Unidentified Photographer, [Soldier sitting on bench in front of United States flag], ca. 1930s-50s (DA.1B31.91)

Unidentified Photographer, [Soldier in front of United States flag], ca. 1940s (711.1990)

Unidentified Photographer, [Unidentified woman with United States flag in background], ca. 1910 (1034.1990)

Unidentified Photographer, [Unidentified girl with United States flag], ca. 1885 (2007.54.16)

Unidentified Photographer, [U.S. Marine, United States flag in background], ca. 1920 (1083.1990)

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“The easiest kind of a job to cover was a murder because the stiff would be laying on the ground, he couldn’t get up and be temperamental…”

Famous Photographers Tell How, Candid Recordings, 1958

Some of the photos Weegee speaks about and their original published context:

Weegee (1899-1968), [Ballerina Marina Franca in her peacock costume at the Cinderella Ball, Waldorf Astoria, New York], April 18, 1941 (15700.1993)

Weegee Photographs Society at the Waldorf
By Weegee
Why, I don’t know; but I was assigned to cover the Cinderella Ball.
“Get plenty of fashion pictures,” was the editor’s parting shot.
So I found Ilka Chase, who talks about fashions on the radio, and asked her:
How does a police reporter go about describing fashions?”
“Just write down what you see,” she told me.
She had on a tomato-red dress, trimmed with white. In front was a pocket – something like the pouch on a kangaroo – that held real red and white carnations.
One exotic girl kept running in and out of the dressing room. She was dressed like a chicken but needed her peacock tail. Only a mechanic could fasten it on. He arrived just in time to save the show. All the women had that after-the-beauty-parlor look- DOUBLE STRENGTH. Even the cigaret girls looked Park Avenue. And while the couples danced they just left their gold pocketbooks and furs at the tables. I didn’t see any signs about checking valuables with the cashier.
PM, April 18, 1941, Vol. II, No. 2189, pp. 16-17

Weegee (1899-1968), Balcony Seats at a Murder, November 16, 1939 (2056.1993)

Murder in New York
After dusk on Nov. 16 Angelo Greco stood smoking outside his cafe in Manhattan’s Little Italy. Emerging from the darkness, a man drew a gun, fired four shots, fled into the night. Greco tumbled dead in his doorway. From windows above, heads popped out. Police cars screamed into the street. Close in their wake arrived Arthur Fellig, famed free-lance photographer (LIFE, April 12, 1937) who sleeps behind police headquarters, has a short-wave radio in his car. He listened briefly while neighborhood folk stolidly disclaimed knowledge of the murderer, then stepped back and photographed this dramatic scene.
Life, November 27 1939, p. 27

Street Scene in New York
After the guns ceased barking and the gunmen fled, neighbors peered from the fire escape and almost every window last night for a glimpse of the body of Anthony Greco, slain in front of his own cafe at [10 Prince St.]
New York Post, November 17, 1939

Weegee (1899-1968), “I Cried When I Took This Picture,” Ms. Henrietta Torres and Her Daughter Ada Watch as Another Daughter and Her Son Die in Fire, December 15, 1939, (Portfolio 18)

Mother and Son Die in B’klyn Fire
Mrs. Henrietta Torres and her daughter, Ada, photographed just after they were rescued from a two-alarm fire at 41 Bartlett Street, Brooklyn, early today. Mrs. Ramonia Malave and her son, Edward, relatives of Mrs. Torres, were brought down later – dead.
New York Post, December 15, 1939

Weegee (1899-1968), [Man sleeping on pavement in front of Dunhill Funeral Home, New York], July 13, 1941 (2193.1993)

New York After Midnight
Amsterdam Ave. in the 90’s, 6 a.m.: He’s sleeping it off. There’s a pavement sleeper on almost every block after the bars close, Weegee says, “but why pick a funeral home, unless 711 is his lucky number?”
PM, July 13, 1941, Vol. II, No. 4, pp. 62

It is now almost six in the morning… it is still dark… but the church is open… and the early morning worshipers find solace inside… except for this tired Sunday traveler who, a few blocks away, finds a resting place underneath the canopy at number 711 Amsterdam Ave.… This avenue is full of saloons, and they are called just that… no fancy foreign names like Cocktail Lounges… So sleep on stranger… no one will bother you… not even the cops… Sunday is a good day for sleeping – so is any other day – when one is tired. Naked City, 1945, p. 19

Weegee (1899-1968), [Alfred Stieglitz in the office of his gallery, An American Place, New York], May 7, 1944 (Portfolio 26)

Weegee meets a great man
Weegee brought in a photograph of an old man sitting on a cot, his hands in his lap. Weegee is the cigar-smoking, crime, fire and seamy-side-of-life photographer who lives across the street from police headquarters and does his best work from midnight on.
“This is Stieglitz, Alfred Stieglitz, ” said Weegee. “He’s a great photographer. They called him the Old Master of the Camera in the Saturday Evening Post, [Thomas Craven, “Stieglitz – Old Master of the Camera,” Saturday Evening Post, 216 No.28, January 8, 1944] a couple of months ago.
“For me he is the answer to a question I ask myself sometimes,” said Weegee. “Hundreds of photographers, amateur and professional, including myself are trying to get recognition.
“It’s so tough and impossible that sometimes it makes your heart ache. This Alfred Stieglitz, he became famous both in Europe and America – one of the three, four greatest photographers.

One day he spoke
“On Madison Avenue, in the fifties, you can see him any morning, walking alone, an old man in a black hat. No one bothers to look at him. Just another character. I’ve noticed him many times, walking as if in a trance. I wanted to talk to him, but I was afraid to disturb him. Finally, one day I did. I walked up to him and said, “You Stieglitz?” He stared at me as though I had woken him from a dream. I told him my name. You know, I thought maybe he had read about me in PM or in the camera magazines. He told me he never read about other people or himself.
Stieglitz invited Weegee to his gallery…
“His gallery is called An American Place,” said Weegee. [509 Madison Avenue, Room 1710, more info]“The name was printed on the door. When he opened it, there was a strong smell of disinfectant, like in a sick room and it was fitted up with paintings hung on the wall.
“There was cubbyhole at the back of the gallery, with a cot in it, and Stieglitz slumped down on it, too exhausted to take his cape off. He started to talk, the most famous photographer in the world, the man who sponsored unknown painters and sculptors who are famous today.
“Stieglitz pointed to a phone near his cot. It never rings, he said. I have been deserted. The paintings on the wall are orphans. No one comes up to see them!
“He was a failure, he told me,” said Weegee, “and others were successful because they had wanted money, because they were politicians, showmen. He himself had not made a photograph in 10 years, and he had never used the products of Eastman Kodak because of their slogan You push a button. We’ll do the rest.”

He cried himself to sleep
“He told me: I am 81 years old. The happiest time in my life was in Berlin, at the turn of the century, when it was free. When I returned to America, I used to cry myself to sleep every night for two years thinking of the dirty streets here.
“I looked around the studio and asked Stieglitz how he lived, how he paid the rent… The rent and the expenses for the studio, about $4000 [approximately $53,345.91 in 2015] a year, were contributed by the artists when they sold any of their paintings and other interested individuals.
“Suddenly he slumped over in pain. My heart. It’s bad. He said it in a whisper as he slumped over on the cot. I hung around there for a while, waiting until he recovered. And then left quietly and shut the glass door with the words painted on it, AN AMERICAN PLACE.
“It doesn’t seem right that such a great artist should have such a little reward,” said Weegee.
PM, May 7, 1944, Vol. I, No. 277, p. M3

Excerpts of Weegee’s portion of the “Famous Photographers Tell How” LP were first posted on-line on the Weegee’s World website, in 1997. Seen here on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. By 1958, when the record was released, it had been over a dozen years since Weegee, “a perfectionist,” stopped making the photos that he was speaking about. By then he was up to his knees in cheese-cake and up to his multiple eyeballs in distortions and caricatures; and after he worked for a few years in Hollywood and Europe he returned to midtown Manhattan and was working on many photo-based projects.

Weegee tawking, with surprising modesty, (“What I did anybody else can do.”), and unsurprising humor, (“I got up 9 o’clock one night, and I says to myself: I’m gonna take a nice little ride and work up an appetite…”) is truly a treat. Weegee, “truly a great photographer,” was born 118 years ago today, June 12, 1899.

Weegee (1899-1968), Photographer Weegee Disguised as an Ice Cream Peddler in Theater, 1943 (19825.1993)

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Frank Lloyd Wright (June 8, 1867 – April 9, 1959)

Marvin KonerFrank Lloyd Wright, 1958 (3575.1992)

Marvin KonerFrank Lloyd Wright, 1958 (3576.1992)

Marvin Koner, Frank Lloyd Wright and his wife, 1958 (3577.1992)

In honor of Frank Lloyd Wright would have turned 150 years, today.

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A few photos made in, or near, Pittsburgh

Todd Webb (1905-2000), Looking towards Pittsburgh, 1948 (189.1983)

Todd Webb (1905-2000), Street scene and steel mill, Pittsburgh, 1948 (190.1983)

Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971), Workers leaving at 3 P.M shift at Pittsburgh, PA plant, 1936 (1662.2005)

W. Eugene Smith (1918-1978), [Factory interior with “The Safe Worker is No Sissy, He’s Just Plain Smart!” sign], 1955-1956 (277.2001)

Lewis Hine (1874-1940), Irish stogie-maker, Pittsburgh, 1909 (2006.55.19)

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Memorial Day: John F. Kennedy’s 100 birthday

Associated Press, Unidentified Photographer, [John F. Kennedy], 1925 (2012.91.4)

Unidentified Photographer, [John F. Kennedy, Solomon Islands], 1943 (2012.91.8)

Cornell Capa, [John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie, campaigning in New York], October 19, 1960 (124.2004)

Associated Press, Unidentified Photographer, [President-elect John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy at baptism of John F. Kennedy Jr., Georgetown University Hospital, Washington, DC], December 8, 1960 (2012.92.19)

United Press International, Unidentified Photographer, [President John F. Kennedy speaking at the U. N. General Assembly, United Nations], September 20, 1963 (2013.96.138)

Associated Press, Unidentified Photographer, [Joan Bennett Kennedy, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, and Patricia Kennedy Lawford, kneeling John F. Kennedy’s casket, Washington, DC], November 25, 1963 (2012.94.52)

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Pearl Primus

John Albert, [Pearl Primus dancing at a Fiesta Republicana, Dexter Park, Queens, New York], July 19, 1943 (2013.115.41)

“In Memory of Free Spain Pearl Primus, of Café Society (downtown), entertains at a Fiesta Republicana held yesterday at Dexter Park, Queens, by friends of Republican Spain on the seventh anniversary of Franco’s rebellion.” (PM, July 19, 1948)

At the age of two, Pearl Primus (1919-1994) moved, with her family, from the Laventille ward of Port of Spain, Trinidad to New York City. She grew up in the city and aspired to become a doctor. While pursuing a graduate degree in biology from Hunter College she discovered dance and won a scholarship from the New Dance Group. Her debut performance in February 1943 was met with great acclaim. It lead to her becoming a regular at the famous Café Society Downtown, performing at the Negro Freedom Rally in Madison Square Garden, and many more honors within the same year. Pearl Primus devoted her career to studying African dance and traveled extensively for her research. She was instrumental in introducing those traditions to America and western Modern Dance.

Barbara Morgan, Pearl Primus–Speak to Me of Rivers, 1944(printed ca. 1972) (546.1986)

This image of Pearl Primus was taken by Barbara Morgan (1900-1992), an American interdisciplinary artist, who is best known for her definitive photographs of many pioneers of modern dance. She was an early member of the Photo League and co-founded Aperture magazine.

Alexander DeSouza, intern, Collections department

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“A Drop in the Bucket of the Principles of Science”

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991), Parabolic Mirror, 1958 (22.1986)

Parabolic mirror is created by group of small mirrors. Light from an object (the eye) is reflected by each mirror to same point (camera). This illustrates, basically, a principle used in mirrors of astronomical telescopes. Think, February 1962, p. 9)

Berenice Abbott says this was one of the hardest photos that she ever made, and it was important to include the “funny, little, homely base.” Perhaps this photo reflects Abbott’s surrealist roots and the influence of surrealist friends (Man Ray, etc.). Coincidentally, at around the same time, Weegee was, apparently effortlessly, cranking out a multitude of photos of multiple eyes using mirrors and kaleidoscopes (an early scientific instrument).

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991), A Bouncing Ball in Diminishing Arcs, 1958-61 (24.1986)
One of Abbott’s early science photos, made in a small basement, characterized by the complex lighting used to maintain the blackness of the black background and to retain the three-dimensionality of the bouncing (golf) ball.

Berenice Abbott speaking about her science photos at ICP on November 5th, 1979.

After Berenice Abbott stopped photographing New York, she wanted to photograph science. Portraits of big little things, often unseen to the naked eye, unchanging science. For about 20 years she tried to make science photos, and was unsuccessful in finding support. A letter that articulates Abbott’s interest in photographing science:

We live in a world made by science. But we–the millions of laymen–do not understand or appreciate the knowledge which thus controls daily life.
To obtain wide popular support for science, to that end that we may explore this vast subject even further and bring as yet unexplored areas under control, there needs to be a friendly interpreter between science and the layman.
I believe that photography can be this spokesman, as no other form of expression can be; for photography, the art of our time, the mechanical, scientific medium which matches the pace and character of our era, is attuned to the function. There is an essential unity between photography, science’s child, and science, the parent.
Yet so far the task of photographing scientific subjects and endowing them with popular appeal and scientific correctness has not been mastered. The function of the artist is needed here, as well as the function of the recorder. The artist through history has been the spokesman and conservator of human and spiritual energies and ideas. Today science needs its voice. It needs the vivification of the visual image, the warm human quality of imagination added to its austere and stern disciplines. It needs to speak to the people in terms they will understand. They can understand photography preeminently.
To me, this function of photography seems extraordinarily urgent and exciting. Scientific subject matter may well be the most thrilling of today. My hope of moving into this new field comes logically in my own evolution as a photographer.
After I had explored the possibilities of portrait photography in Paris for some years, I set myself the task of documenting New York City. Now after ten years of work at this interpretation, I find this phase of my career rounded out with the publication of my book, Changing New York.
The problem of documenting science, of presenting its realistic subject matter with the same integrity as one portrays the culture morphology of our civilization, and yet of endowing this material so strange and unfamiliar to the public with the poetry of its own vast implications, would seem to me to lead logically from my previous experience.
I am now seeking channels through which this new creative task may be approached.
Berenice Abbott
New York City, April 24, 1939
Source: Berenice Abbott: Photography and Science (1939)

In 1958, motivated, in part, by the low quality and lack of originality in the science book illustrations of the time and the launch of the Sputnik 1 satellite by the Soviet Union in 1957, Abbott got a job with the Physical Science Study Committee (PSSC) at MIT to illustrate a new physics book. For about three years she had a great time photographing the principals of science. She speaks about some of the obstacles and prejudices and lighting difficulties that she had to overcome to make her photos. Intriguingly she refers to herself as “the least arty photographer in America” and states that she “hates art photography.” Abbott concludes by saying about her science photos “I don’t know. Hope something comes of them some day.”

In addition to this blog post, Abbott’s science photos have been widely published and exhibited posthumously including: “Berenice Abbott: Portraits, New York Views, and Science Photographs from the Permanent Collection” at ICP in 1996, and in the twenty first century “Berenice Abbott: Science Photographs” at The New York Public Library in 1999-2000, and “Berenice Abbott: Photography and Science: An Essential Unity” at MIT in 2012.

Abbott’s science photos were featured in IBM’s Think magazine in 1962:

Think, February 1962 (cover, pp. 6-9)

A classic problem for physics teachers is to give vivid laboratory demonstrations of the physical phenomena they are discussing. Now, various experts have joined forces to bring help. for example, by combining great imagination and several photographic techniques, such as time exposure and stroboscopic flash, Berenice Abbott has produced images so vivid that some of them show students more than they see in the lab.
This sort of see-it-yourself science illustrates the modern teaching aids developed by the Physical Science Study Committee, a group of university and high school teachers, which was created to give both high school and college students a firmer footing in physics. The PSSC project was launched in 1956 with a grant from the National Science Foundation, which has contributed most of the financial support. (The Ford Foundation and Alfred P. Sloan Foundation have also contributed.)
The result of the PSSC work is a fresh approach to physics in the form of a vastly improved textbook (physics, D.C. Heath) in which graphically clear illustrations appear. The new method cuts down learning time for fundamentals so that students can move on, at a faster pace, to the more advanced theories of the modern world – a world where some of them will pry into the secretive heart of the atom, while others will pear out to the unknown regions of outer space.
Think, February 1962, pp. 6-8

Making Science Visible: The Photography of Berenice Abbott by Hannah Star Rogers.
Physical Science Study Committee, 1956 MIT Library
Berenice Abbott: Photography and Science (1939) The University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Berenice Abbott: the photography trailblazer who had supersight” by Sean O’Hagan.
Abbott and the MIT Physical Science Study Committee” by Colleen O’Reilly.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991), Magnetic Field, 1959 (664.1984)

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