Kaufman’s Brooklyn: June 1: Six photos from ‘An ordinary day on Brooklyn’s streets’

June 1, 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:

So far, in all the posts I’ve created, I have selected images that showed something unusual. First, I chose streets that seemed unnaturally quiet for broad daylight in busy Brooklyn. Then I chose people who were by themselves, but somehow looking extraordinary or doing something extraordinary. Then came fun, in a variety of forms, often photogenic. Then the Depression, thankfully not usual scenes from our history.

This week I hope to interest you in pictures of common, everyday activity. I call this week’s photos “An ordinary day on Brooklyn’s streets.” Normally, ordinary things are not very interesting. Why will this be different? Back in April, our streets were eerily empty. That’s why I thought quiet streets from long-ago Brooklyn could be interesting. Now our Brooklyn streets, though not yet normal, are becoming less quiet and empty. So maybe it’s time for a look at ordinary scenes on Brooklyn streets from long ago.

Today’s photos:

Pretty much by definition, showing ordinary people doing ordinary things does not require much comment. The images pretty much speak for themselves. Where I have information about location or date, I provide it. And I share observations about what I think makes a picture interesting in its own right. But you will bring your own perspective and your own eye to identify why the ordinary from long ago is interesting to you.

Choosing carefully, 1935

What could be more ordinary than people shopping for produce? This is a classic city scene. The shopping street in every neighborhood had produce for sale on the sidewalks. (That’s been true, by the way, for at least a half century before 1935, and for the 85 years since.) These women seem perfect prototypes and they draw your attention immediately. But then you also can’t miss the prices and the abundance. Is the picture of a chicken on the window for shoppers who don’t read English?


A look up Court Street, October 28, 1935

Some people. Some traffic. Active, but not crowded or bustling. As I take in the scene, Bohack on the corner draws my attention. It’s a relatively new phenomenon: a “grocery store,” indoor shopping for most of your food in one place. It represents a step in the evolution from pushcarts and crowded sidewalks to supermarkets. It helped shoppers avoid the inconvenience of going to six different stores, but was still a long way from modern supermarkets that stock almost anything, food and beyond.


Hungary for pork, undated

That’s not a misspelling, just a cheap pun. “Magyar uzlet” (printed on the window and also in neon) means “Hungarian store.” Brooklyn has long been diverse, and its food stores have reflected that. Dense neighborhoods, with different groups shopping on the same streets, led shops to identify themselves. This not only attracted people who wanted home cooking; it also appealed to others who wanted to try something new.


Busy sidewalk, undated

Another typical sidewalk shopping area. Husband and wife, mother and child, solo man — a busy spot. I always pay attention to the one or more people in a spontaneous scene who are looking at the camera. I wonder what they were thinking. Was the camera welcome or intrusive? Was it a curiosity or commonplace? If these people didn’t know why the picture was being taken, what did they imagine? There are four people in this shot looking right at us. Can you find the fourth?


Joe’s on Court, undated

With help from others and a little sleuthing, I learned that this scene is another of Court Street. It’s at the intersection with Pierrepont Street, a couple of blocks north of Boro Hall. It’s a busy spot as my father captured it. Scenes under the elevated trains always remind me how close those are to the stores and homes nearby. With the trolley as well, the noise must have been constant and extreme. Add the darkness and the ever-changing sunlight and shade, and you get a pretty uncomfortable atmosphere to live or work or shop in. There are only a few el trains left in the city and no trolleys.


Card game on the stoop, undated

First of all, why is this in a display that supposedly shows an ordinary day on the streets? As odd as it is to have a crowd watching a card game, it seems routine to me. I feel like a tour around residential neighborhoods on any random day in nice weather would find dozens of local crowds gathered for various unlikely reasons. Could this be a high-stakes showdown? I doubt it. Is it the championship game in a block-wide tournament of rummy or casino? Who knows? But, as usual, one or two in the crowd (near the curb) look to the camera rather than the main attraction.

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 5: Photos from ‘An ordinary day on Brooklyn’s streets’

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  1. Harvey Fishman

    That is not Court Street with Joe’s – that is Fulton Street; Court Street was a block south at Montague Street. Where Fulton Street ran is now Cadman Plaza West. The elevated train never ran on Court Street, I ate several times at Joe’s when I was very young.

  2. it's onlymoney

    Fascinating, a native of NYC myself, my time was the 60’s, remember us kids were able to play all the time on the streets near our homes (of course in summertime, snow days), many residential streets had children playing outside, sadly, something you don’t see today (due to increase of crime, child offenders) there was some adult supervision. Also remember women wore dresses and men wore shirts and nice pants, today it’s jeans, whatever. Times are surely different.