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Join Date: Jul 2003
Location: Detroit Area
HU NYC & NJ: Seton Hall Exhibition
Just an FYI, might be worth checking out.
A feel for everyday life in old New York
Magazine writer's wife captures gritty city scenes from'30s and'40s
Friday, June 02, 2006
BY MITCHELL SEIDEL
Imagine if you went around your community today armed with a camera, just recording everyday life. Would the resulting pictures strike you as something special? Maybe so, but not many of them.
Now, consider that same experience, only the pictures haven't been seen for 60 years. That's the time-capsule-like feel of the photographs of the late Therese Mitchell, wife of the late New Yorker magazine writer Joseph Mitchell. While Joseph Mitchell documented his adopted home of New York City in Talk of the Town pieces for the magazine, his wife was taking to the streets with her twin lens reflex capturing her photographic observations.
The images, up at Seton Hall University through July 14, give you a feel for how it must have been to walk along the city streets in the'30s and'40s and observe the passing parade. The exhibit is being presented in conjunction with a one-day symposium on Joseph Mitchell's writing that was held last month at the university.
Therese Mitchell's "Shoeshine Men" stand at the foot of a substantial looking building, most likely on Wall Street. Staggered at every 10 feet or so, they clearly are hoping that an approaching passerby has reconsidered his decision not to have his shoes shined by the other three bootblacks in the picture.
"People Talking on the Stoop" is just that, a collection of everyday New Yorkers framed between two parked Depression-era cars. They sit, they chat. A woman at the top of the grimy steps pokes her head around a partly opened door, apparently to see what's happening on the street and to catch some of the conversation.
Wonderful tidbits of old New York abound. A waiter sits in a chair in front of a restaurant as he completes listing the daily specials in greasepaint on the window. A stern-jawed policeman stands his ground in front of a group of fearful-looking civilians. A man sits at the edge of a pier and ponders the waterfront. Line upon line of drying laundry are strung between tenement fire escapes.
In "Mannequins," a chorus line of unclothed flat-chested faux women stand in a store window, increasing in height from left to right. Their hairstyles are forever immortalized in permanent waves and tight curls. The photograph, like many in the exhibit, is accompanied by an appropriate passage from Joseph Mitchell's essays and journalism. In this case: "If you smirk enough, you can get away with practically anything in a New York newspaper, and once it is understood that Sex is to be treated coyly or as melodrama, one of the most amusing classes of people to interview are naked people -- nudists, strip tease girls, models, dancers who believe that to be artistic you just start unbuttoning."
A handful of the images in the show are from Joseph Mitchell's native North Carolina. They, too, give a view of the past, although segregated washroom facilities and tobacco barns have a grimmer connotation than middle class New Yorkers at Coney Island or Union Square.
Mitchell Seidel writes about photography for The Star-Ledger. He can be reached at (973) 392-1780 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2006 The Star Ledger
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