Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) was an american photographer. She became well-known with her photographs of New York City in the 1930s, which were presented as a serie called “Changing New York (1935-1939)”

The serie conrresponds to the grand project she received to document New York City with the Federal Art Project (FAP), a depression-era government program for unemployed artists and workers in related fields such as advertising, graphic design, illustration, photofinishing, and publishing. In 1939, 97 of the 302 photographs she took were presented in a book in advance of the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadow NY.

Since February the 21th, a retrospective is on display in the Jeu de Paume in Paris.

Children playing in ruins or in clunkers, in a part of New York City that looks like an european distric after the World War II… This is the work of Martha Cooper in her serie called “Street Play”.

M. Cooper - Street Play serie

Since the 1970s, Martha Cooper has documented children playing in the Lower Eastside which, at the time, was a wasteland full of vacant lots. Many of her photographs were taken in the Alphabet City area, (between the Avenues A, B, C and D) where children found perfect playgrounds with plenty of open spaces and raw materials, like others have fun in the wood…
While depicting the creativity and innocence of children making the best of their environment, “Street Play” also gives an account of a promiscuous city which has been quickly forgotten after the distric became trendy and beloved by artists. Here some of the pictures I found on the web:

Martha Cooper’s photographs have appeared in National Geographic, Smithsonian and Natural History Magazines. Born in the 1940s in Baltimore, she lives and works in NYC.

John C.H. Grabill was a commercial photographer who set up a studio in Sturgis, South Dakota, in 1866. From 1887 to 1892, he documented the Western Frontier Life; here some of the pictures he made from the Native Americans, depicting their contact with U.S. military and government agents:

Red Cloud and American Horses 1891

Sources: John C. H. Grabill Collection, Library of Congress

Upshot-Knothole Grable, a test carried out by the U.S. military in Nevada on May 25, 1953.

A 280mm nuclear shell was fired 10km into the desert by the M65 Atomic Cannon, detonating in the air, about 500 feet above the ground, with a resulting 15 kiloton explosion. (U.S. Department of Defense)

source: http://www.retronaut.

In 1969, when awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship made to photograph “the effect of media on events“, Garry Winogrand started what he called later the “Public Relations” serie, an outcome of his fascination for rituals of a society eager for publicity.

Election campaigns, press conferences, rallies and strikes, museum openings, receptions in New York City: his pictures depicte every aspect of public or private events created to be documented, capturing with a wide-angle lens camera as much “informations” as possible. This aesthetical approach made him belong to experimental photography of the 60’s-70’s, forgetting about the frame and close-ups as if one single picture could sum up the whole event itself.

With this serie, the photographer documented the emerging hype of a society celebrating itself by the presence of the medias, phenomenon that was soon going to increase. But since then, the reports of public celebrations may have lost this initial excitement, aesthetic and narrative potential that Winogrand managed to capture in the 1970s on his 28mm films.

The “Public Relations” serie was first published to accompany a 1977 exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, with an essay by Tod Papageorge. Garry Winogrand, born in 1928 in NYC, died in in 1984 in Mexico.

In the early 1940s, an amateur photograph named Charles Weever Cushman came to New York and spent his holidays photographing the city. 70 years later, his Kodachromes have become unique documents about a city which has never stoped to re-invent itself. Many of the areas pictured there have been indeed demolished or rebuilt since then.

C.W. Cushman - Fulton Street from South Street in downtown Manhattan, 1941
C.W. Cushman – Fulton Street from South Street in downtown Manhattan, 1941

While he was an amateur, C.W. Cushman photographed all his life, in the whole country. Today, the 14,500 color photographs he took from 1938 to 1969 are hold at the Indiana University Archive, where he was alumnus.

C. W. Cushman was born in Poseyville, Indiana, in 1896. He died in 1972.

Bill Owens, which made his reputation shooting in suburbias, took part from July of 1979 to June of 1980 to one of biggest survey ever made about Los Angeles.

Bill Owens - Pool, from the Los Angeles Documentary Project, Ektachrome print on paper image, 1980
Bill Owens – Pool, from the Los Angeles Documentary Project, Ektachrome print on paper image, 1980

The Los Angeles Documentary Project was an ambitious one. Organised by the federal agency for culture (the National Endowment for the Arts – the NEA), it was announced as “a visual examination of the sociological and topographical diversity of one of the most dynamic and unusual cities in the world”. The survey was made to study the social impact of growth and change on the city and also its significance in postmodernist urban theory.
It included 8 photographers familiar with L.A and known for works already accomplished in California : Bill Owen, Gusmano Cesaretti, Joe Deal, Robbert Flick, Douglas Hill, John Humble, Susan Ressler, and Max Yavno.

While other photographers chose to document L.A with black&white films, Owens took pictures in color. He also obviously chose to focus on clichés: as he did for his “Suburbia” portfolios from 1972, his L.A photos stress on common stereotypes, which can include, for example, a swimming pool, pretty ladies snorting drugs, a sushi bar, huge free ways or else artists in their loft. All those scenes, which look like having been set up, call attention to the artificiality of the city. Critics pointed out that those pictures look eventually closer to magazines portfolios than to survey material, having a level of artifice that doesn’t match with the mission the photographers were given. But they nevertheless give an account of the visual diversity that the city presented and balance the approaches of the 7 others photographers. Showing all the city facets, the survey included different approaches and styles; thus Owens’ vision and appropriation of media images completes the tableau with an aspect that definitely belongs to L.A’s identity: artificiality.
The complete survey was presented in 1981 with the exhibition “Year 200: New Views of Los Angeles,” first shown at Mount St. Mary’s College and then at Grossmont College.

Here some the grand-format camera photographs ownd by the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Renwick Gallery, of Owen’s portfolio:


Credits: Bill Owens / Smithsonian American Art Museum, all rights reserved.

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