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

August 12, 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:

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.

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.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

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:

Two more of Midtown, two more of Downtown. Still as promised, and still not repetitive.

Daytime classic: Two takes of the two iconic buildings, 1940

These two images are from the same negative. The nighttime one I identified as “Classic” in Monday’s post has a cropped version that really changes the scene; I called it (very creatively) the “Cropped classic.” Here is a daytime version of that same scene. I don’t know why my father didn’t do a wide version of this, showing more buildings left and right. But without the sparkling windows and beautiful streaks of light in the sky behind, the daytime version is decidedly less Classic. Still, there’s interest. In the wider image, the boxy rectangles of so many buildings and their windows compete with the two vertical and graceful giants. But in the cropped version, the remaining lower buildings play a mere supporting role to New York’s 20th century icons.


Sun behind clouds: From the roof once more, 1942

Getting the shot at the right moment takes luck or persistence or both. This scene could be eerie or gorgeous, depending on your mood. But without the sun in just the right spot, it might not be either. The reflection on the water across the tip of Manhattan, contrasted with the lack of a reflection on the near side, makes all the difference. The fact that the buildings are in deep shadow but silhouetted against the sky is also the result of there being light on the far side, but almost none (including ambient light that is often enough to illuminate objects in the shade) on the near side.


A glimpse of the city: Partial skyline from the Heights, undated

Lucky Brooklynites — at least near this part of town — could often get a look at “the city” without going out of their way. This shot shows one of the many angles and alleys of sight that steadily remind people of Brooklyn’s connection to New York’s oldest neighborhood across the river.

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 15: Photos from the ‘Skylines’ collection

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