Museum of Photographic Arts

San Diego, CA


photo: John Hazeltine


New York, New York

August 20 - October 15, 2000


This exhibition contains the work of many photographers who have sought to describe New York City. Featuring Andreas Feininger, Berenice Abbott, Lewis Hine, Helen Levitt, Lou Stoumen, and Weegee, New York, New York represents the many photographers who have worked its streets, been inspired by its verticality, and have been stimulated by its pace. To some artists and photographers, it has been the only possible place to be. The exhibition is curated by MoPA Director Arthur Ollman.

There is no New York. The entity called New York that comes to your mind when you hear those syllables exists only in your mind. There really is no such place. New York is, in fact, a state of mind. There are as many New Yorks as there are people who have an impression of it. Those who are from there assume that their New York is New York. Those of slightly lesser status, who have merely lived there for a time (and that time might be twenty years), and those who would never consider going there, also identify a New York, which is their own version.

But New York is an amalgam, a construction of all of those visions. Some say it is so big they had to name it twice. The truth may be that it is so elusive that had to try more than once in order to capture it.

First of all it is a primary identifier of the characteristics of America. Like all of the places, which are named with the modifier "New", it announces its intention to replace an "old" place. As a nation of immigrants, America is covered with "new" places. As most of the immigrants were leaving behind intolerable conditions, or at least moving toward greater opportunity and hope (as in New Hope, Connecticut) all of the symbolism for these new American towns is based in promise, in growth, in rebirth, in fertility, and energy. New York was the essence of that image.

The richest, most energetic, biggest, loudest, most crowded, most confident of our cities, became our media capital, our art capital, celebrity center, and more. New York is the fashion, food, architecture, commercial and communications center too. And its dominion is not simply national. It is global. To much of the world the image of America is New York. But it is also, to many, the dirtiest, rudest, most violent, brash and impoverished city in America. Defining New York is more than a cottage industry; it is a national pastime.

Its landmarks are famous everywhere. The Empire State Building, the World Trade Center, Chrysler Building, Brooklyn Bridge, Carnegie Hall, Guggenheim Museum, Statue of Liberty, United Nations, Central Park, Coney Island, Wall Street, Times Square and Broadway, The Met, Lincoln Center, the Modern, and more and more and more. Its streets seethe with flowing rivers of humanity day and night. Every new bus, train, and plane arriving pumps new tenants into the stew.

Such a mixture of attraction and repulsion has always intrigued photographers. The two main subjects of course are the buildings and the inhabitants. Each offers endless rhapsodic possibilities, as light and weather play across the Island of Manhattan. The continual flow of pedestrians through the mid-town canyons is like nutrients floating down a wooded stream to a street photographer like Gary Winnogrand. Like a very successful trout, he scanned the oncoming foot traffic for interesting nourishment. His wide-angle pursuit inventoried everything approaching to feed his voracious visual appetite, while he exerted enough energy to physically propel himself upstream against the current of New York's restless river of people. His vision spawned several generations of later-day flaneurs. Photographers like Andreas Feininger also saw New York's scale as a product of great numbers of elements repeated in imagery: thousands of pedestrians, hundreds of trains and tracks, thousands of office windows, thousands of gravestones. Wolf Von Dem Bussche sees a magically rhapsodic land of giant shapes and patterns made transcendent by snow, rain, and mist. Tod Papageorge identifies, in his Metropolitan Museum of Art Opening, 1989, that the original purpose of cities was to allow various separate tribes to come together to swap genetic material. And with images like William Klein's Gun #1, New York, 1955, and Arthur Levine's Subway Exit, NYC, 1999, we see that New York's blood pressure is still stratospheric.

If we largely understand New York through the imagery we see of it, surely the rest of the world also uses these images to identify it. MoPA continues to collect photographs, which have helped to create our vision of the world. This offering from the MoPA permanent collection identifies many of the past century's greatest imagemakers, working in the most amazingly photographic of cities.

Read more about the Museum of Photographic Arts in Resource Library Magazine

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 3/18/11

Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2011 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.