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Kaufman’s Brooklyn: Eight ‘Portraits from the past’

September 25, 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:

My father took quite a lot of portraits of businessmen and officers of charities or other organizations in his post-war, Manhattan years. These were typically middle-aged white guys in business suits with blank expressions, looking “professional.” They were mostly used for photos in annual reports or institutional publications.

From the early, Brooklyn years that I’ve been showing here, I found just one group of about fifteen portraits, members of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW). I assume they were published in some booklet or registry for the organization. Beyond that, I know nothing – no names, no dates, no occasion they were earmarked for. From the looks of the packaging the negatives were in, and judging by the wardrobes and styles, I’m sure these were from the mid- to late-1930s.

The women were carefully dressed and for the most part “business-like” in expression and bearing, like the men my father would photograph decades later. Despite that, many somehow were more interesting than the grey-suited males of the 60s and 70s. Hairdos, wardrobe, hats, style made the difference. And somehow, expressions or personalities peeked through.

But I’ve added a great deal to this handful of formal portraits by realizing how many more I had hiding in plain sight. Much like I did last week with vehicles, I took interesting-looking women from images of all kinds and zoomed in to create, in effect, candid portraits. With those couple of dozen additions, I have a very full week’s worth of portraits to display.

Some of the faces have been shown before, but now they have no context. While I may have a little information about some, I will only supply background where I think it really adds something. For the most part I want to offer you the opportunity – maybe I should say challenge – to just look into the faces of these dignified, accomplished, generous women from more than 80 years ago.

Many are looking right at you; engage that eye contact. Try to imagine what they were like. What they did. What was important to them. Ask them about their backgrounds, their lives, their families, their activities. Listen to their answers.

A number of anonymous, actionless pictures can become a blur, can cause your attention to wander. So pick a few each day that strike your fancy for any reason and connect with them. How often do you get a chance to make the acquaintance of so many interesting, worthwhile people from a different time and a distant world? No risk! No commitment! It would be a shame to waste the chance. You’d never know what you missed.

Today’s photos:

Eight more interesting, varied portraits of ladies today. Remember: pick a few that appeal to you. Look at them. Think about them. Talk to them. Listen to them.

Member of National Council of Jewish Women

Member of National Council of Jewish Women

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 21: ‘Portraits from the past’

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