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Kaufman’s Brooklyn: Nine photos from the ‘Past, present, future’ collection

October 23, 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:

Back in April, when I began the “Kaufman’s Brooklyn” display, we were at the depth of the virus pandemic. Here we are six months later, and New York has had excellent success at reducing its infection rates, until some recent spikes in areas of Brooklyn and Queens.

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Before I wrap up this half-year project next week, it seems like a good time to take a look back at the changes we’ve experienced in fighting COVID-19. I’ll do that by using my father’s pictures to illustrate.

I’ll celebrate the successes since April by showing pictures from the mid-20th century that mimic the look of our life at its worst point earlier this year. Then I’ll contrast that with an image suggesting how we look now. But I’ll also add an image to represent what “normal” was before the pandemic and what we hope to get back to – all using pictures from long ago. That third picture will remind us that we’re still a long way from where we want to be and that sacrifices, patience and adaptations for safety are still very much needed.

Today’s photos:

The final day of this look at the pandemic is different. Unfortunately, many societal issues have worsened as a consequence of COVID-19. These problems have been facts of life, in the news, and on the national agenda – but still unsolved – since my father’s years and longer. Today’s images will highlight a few of these fundamental needs that are too often passed over in the din of every-day distractions and our political dysfunction.

Overburdened teachers: In this scene from the 1930s, a classroom teacher checks students’ teeth in the absence of adequate community dental care.

In our world, teachers have to manage both in-person teaching on complex schedules and online learning using unfamiliar tools and methods, in an environment that may not be totally safe.


Inadequate childcare: In the 1930s, an orphanage takes over when parents have died or can’t care for their children.

In our world, parents have to manage children at home, with online learning usually part of the job. Loss of income, loss of sleep and loss of progress toward gender equality are the results. In September, 800,000 women in the U.S. left the workforce, many to bear the brunt of childcare as schools re-opened, primarily with online learning.


Food insecurity: Local people raise vegetables on a community plot in Brooklyn during the Great Depression.

Today, Great Depression levels of unemployment, massive underemployment and a lack of government aid leave record numbers of Americans dependent on food banks, with many scrambling to adequately feed themselves or their families.


Socioeconomic and health disparities: Black Brooklynites waited for TB tests provided by the Red Cross in the 1940s.

As is often the case, long-standing societal problems impact people of color far more severely than whites. The reasons are many and varied in the case of COVID-19. Inadequate healthcare, unaffordable health insurance and discriminatory treatment are ongoing health challenges for communities of color. COVID-specific concerns include inadequate testing, the impossibility of social distancing, and underlying individual health problems, to name a few. As a result, the pandemic has led to disproportionately high illness and death rates for people of color in the U.S.


Housing insecurity: In depression America, abysmal shacks or shantytowns had to do for millions, while many who were lucky enough to have a home demonstrated for mortgage relief.

Today, with dwindling or disappearing government relief, and with eviction restrictions being lifted in many jurisdictions, millions face being a burden to extended family, moving to homeless shelters, living in today’s versions of shantytowns or simply trying to cope on the street.


Grinding poverty: Combine any number of these problems and we have millions living with horrible deprivation, inexcusable in the wealthiest country in the history of the world.

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 25: Photos from the ‘Past, present, future’ collection

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  1. Lydia Perez

    For years I have wondered, just how did the fire that took down my place of worship happen’ I was a member of Our Lady of lourdes Romen catholic Church, Such a beautiful Church. My heart sunk, and I have not been able to find any type of article that tells the whole story. If there is any one out there that might have any information can you please share it with me, I would appreciate it whole heartly