Brooklyn Boro

Kaufman’s Brooklyn: Seven photos from the ‘Skylines’ collection

August 10, 2020 Phil Kaufman

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:

I hope you enjoy this week’s selections. Of course, I hope that every week. But this time is different because I’ve never done a week with this much apparent repetition. I say “apparent” because, although each picture is different from all the others, they’re all variations of the same two scenes.

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As you saw above, the theme for the week is “Skylines.” As rich as the New York skyline was even all those years ago, there were really only two basic possibilities: either Lower Manhattan or Midtown Manhattan. This week’s pictures are split almost evenly between the two. But, as you’ll see, the similar scenes become very different from each other as a result of perspective, time of day, composition, cropping and editing. With all those variables, it’s often hard to decide which I like the most from among several shots of the same scene.

Some of the views of Midtown were taken from Brooklyn, others from the Upper East Side of Manhattan or from Queens. The ones from Manhattan and Queens create an unusual appearance. From their northeast angle, the Chrysler Building is closer than the Empire State Building and it therefore looks distinctly taller, and, with one building behind the other, they look closer together than usual. A more common Manhattan skyline view is often taken from a square-on perspective, showing the two buildings separated by their full north-south distance and with the Empire State clearly – and accurately – the taller of the two.

As far as I know, none of these pictures were taken for a client or were ever sold for commercial purposes. Many have notes with basic information, and my father had large prints of several which he used as samples. But there’s no evidence of any being submitted to the Eagle for publication, and none have the name of an ad agency or client. As I said about the very first post I did back in April, “Quiet Streets,” my father apparently took these purely for his own professional development and pleasure. It’s my pleasure to offer them for your pleasure so many years after he took them.


Today’s photos:

The lead picture today is the one I have come to think of as the “classic.” It’s the only one of my father’s photos that I ever saw framed and signed. It hung in our home for as long as I can remember, and has hung in my home since my mother died. The other pictures today include a variation of that classic, a sampling of other scenes, and an example of three pictures that are in some ways the same, but different in others.

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The classic: Midtown Manhattan skyline taken from Beekman Hotel roof, 49th Street and First Avenue, 1940

 

Cropped classic (same negative as above)

The only difference here is the cropping. I like the wide view better, but of course I’ve admired it my whole life. My father also created the cropped version and had large prints of it among his samples. Some people have said they prefer that narrower version, since it highlights and parallels the tall, thin look of the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings. What’s your taste?

 

From the park, unidentified, c. 1935

This is one of those glass negatives, from the earliest year or two, but with no exact date or location. I wouldn’t say the Lower Manhattan skyline takes a back seat, but the full and eye-attracting scene of Brooklynites enjoying the view and their comradery more than holds its own.

 

From above Newtown Creek: Midtown and up, May 7, 1946

This is one that I consider almost classic. I find it endlessly evocative. My father labeled it “NY Skyline, Smoky City, Scenic.” I’ll come back to this scene later in the week to illustrate the difference that can be made with only a few small changes.

 

Three from the St. George roof: Lower Manhattan from a favorite spot, c. 1939

These three shots look like they were taken from essentially the exact same spot, of the exact same scene, with the exact same daylight. If it weren’t for the rather different river traffic among the shots, they could have been taken within minutes of each other. That traffic, however, suggests at least hours, if not days or years, between shutter snaps. Though boat traffic may be more subtle than some other “small” differences, it does affect the overall impression. If you saw and loved these three for sale, would you have a hard time deciding which you prefer, or do you find one clearly the best?

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 http://yourartgallery.com/irvingkaufmanstudios. All prints purchased will be the product of professional scanning and editing.


Weekly collection 15: Photos from the ‘Skylines’ collection


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