Brooklyn Boro

Kaufman’s Brooklyn: May 8: Six photos of ‘People, one at a time’

May 8, 2020 Phil Kaufman
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My father, Irving Kaufman (1910 – 1982), was a professional photographer who started in Brooklyn in the mid 1930s working for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He captured thousands of images of Brooklyn through the 1950s. I have recently digitized a great many of them. My father’s profile can be found here.

This week’s theme:

This week’s photos are of “People, one at a time.” Evocative, provocative, attractive, odd, sad, intense. It’s extraordinary how revealing and distinct each individual’s story can be when captured in an interesting context and with the skill of a gifted photographer. Collectively, there’s a lot to be felt and learned in the process. I hope you enjoy.

A sight to behold, 1942

An anonymous gentleman admires the lower Manhattan skyline from the roof of the Hotel St. George. In the heart of Brooklyn Heights, this 30-story rooftop was an ideal spot for river and skyline views. A cocktail lounge, live music and dancing made it a popular, chic spot in warm weather. The hotel was known for its luxurious amenities and counted celebrities, business leaders and politicians among its guests. My father did years of continuous work for the St. George, taking hundreds of pictures, many from this roof. Many will appear in subsequent posts.

Most of what remains of the hotel’s buildings today is either co-op apartments or dormitories for NY area college students.


The sweeper, 1962

Though not as “vintage” as most, this image captures something special. My father used it as one of his sample pieces for the rest of his career.

The floor seems clean, but dust shows in the shafts of sunlight. It may be a dirty job and it may be a lonely job but it’s also a quiet, peaceful and satisfying one. From here it’s even a little beautiful.


Man emerging, January 31, 1936

What’s going on here? The imagination can run wild, from a Monty Python sight gag to a Cold War spy tunnel. The truth is much simpler.

This photo illustrates how the mundane can become fascinating. Floyd Bennett Field, at the south end of Flatbush Avenue, was NYC’s first commercial airport. This man is emerging from an underground passage from the terminal building to exits like this at a few runway locations, quite a convenience for its time. In 1941, the Navy acquired the airfield from the city and, among other changes, closed all the tunnels for security. Maybe they’re still there.


Little lady alone, c. 1935

I found this negative among many other Brooklyn scenes from the mid-1930s, but it had no specific documentation. Of course, this was during the depths of the Great Depression. It’s an evocative, painful image of a young girl who seems to have been among (as President Roosevelt put it) the “one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clothed and ill-fed.”


Solitary striker, c. 1935

The Depression years saw great progress for organized labor. Large strikes aimed at major industries were a key weapon. They were often hard-fought and bitter, sometimes violent.

Here’s one that was small and local but apparently no less contentious. The lonely picketer claims the shop refuses to hire union workers. The shop calls the organizers corrupt liars and claims the strikers are not even beauticians.


Work or play? (undated)

At first glance it looks like this genial fellow is an attendant at Pier 69, the ferry terminal at 69th Street in Bay Ridge. The shortest way to New Jersey from Bay Ridge was through Staten Island, but the Verrazzano Bridge wouldn’t be ready until 1964. So the first leg of the journey required a boat.

Take a close look at the attendant; do you see the fishing rod? Was he a local fellow who found this a good spot to catch dinner? Or was he on the job, but with time to cast a line between ferries? Work or play? Or both?

An index of Kaufman’s Brooklyn posts may be found here.

Irving Kaufman’s profile may be found here.

I invite you to submit comments, memories, images of Brooklyn, and especially any additional background information you can supply about the photos posted here to [email protected]. I’d also be glad to supply information about buying prints of any of the images seen here. Many of my father’s images are also available for viewing and purchase at All prints purchased will be the product of professional scanning and editing.

Weekly collection 2: Photos of ‘People, one at a time’

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  1. FlatbushFred

    Growing up in Staten Island, I remember the Brooklyn ferry. Sometimes the line of cars went for blocks at both ends, and the boats didn’t really have a schedule. They just loaded and left, sometimes more than one at a time! As kids we weren’t allowed out of the car because the trip only took 10 minutes.