Brooklyn Boro

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

August 14, 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:

We’ll finish the week with a little variety. First, there are two shots of Manhattan that stretch the definition of “skyline.” Then (I said “a little” variety), one last look from the St. George roof.

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An odd couple: Trinity Church and the Empire State, undated

If the clouds and the angle of view don’t make you dizzy, you can appreciate the novelty and beauty of this shot. These famous and symbolic buildings are rarely seen or thought of together, and we only get a small part of each. Yet the combination of variegated clouds in the background, with a variety of tapered spires and horizontal rooftops, makes for a rare and interesting image.

 

Can you call this a skyline? Another unusual look at Manhattan, undated

I wish I knew exactly where this shot was taken. It’s certainly a view never to be seen again, even though the four Manhattan skyscrapers visible above the foreground rooftops are all still there. They are, left to right:  the former Met Life Tower at Madison Avenue and 24th Street; the Woolworth Building at 233 Broadway, near Park Place; the Empire State Building at 5th Avenue and 34th Street; and finally, looking small and distant, off to the right, the Chrysler Building at 42nd St. and Lexington Avenue.

It must have taken some scouting to get the right vantage point so that those buildings, and no others, were visible and spread out. That point had to be across the East River, a bit north of midtown, in Long Island City, Queens.

(Some of you may remember the old Elmhurst gas tanks, and I know the structure on the far right looks like them, but the angle would be all wrong and I can’t find any record of similar tanks in Long Island City.)

 

Slight sun or no sun: Last two from the St. George roof, 1942

It seemed appropriate to conclude with two more from what was apparently my father’s favorite spot. There are more photos from here than any other single place by far. (They’re not all skylines; many are of events and meetings up here that I have not displayed.) These two shots show the same familiar image of Lower Manhattan, apparently taken about a half hour apart. The sun just above the horizon adds to one image, but some may prefer just the streak of light in the other. My father didn’t miss many variations at this site.

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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  1. Andrew Porter

    The leftmost building in the photo you can’t identify might be the Con Edison Building on East 14th Street. Because of the gas tank, I believe this might have been taken from First Avenue in the upper 50s, not from across the East River.