A new exhibition, Street Smart: Photographs of New York City, 1945-1980 is on display at the Bruce Museum located on One Museum Dr. in Greenwich through June 4. This exhibition provides a glimpse at life in the Big Apple during the post-war period. Featuring 30 black-and-white works drawn from the Bruce Museum’s permanent collection, the show records both cacophonous scenes of urban life and moments of quietude and respite from the chaos. The Museum is open Tues. – Sun. 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
In the decades that followed World War II, New York City was a world cultural center hosting a whirlwind of activities from protests and race riots to jazz performances. At the same time, the role of photography in American life was changing. As exposure to wartime propaganda made the public question the objective truth of photographic imagery and as cameras became more affordable and easier to use, many American photographers began to imbue their pictures with a more personal approach. The exhibition features works by the 5 photographers Larry Fink, Herman Leonard, Leon Levinstein, John Shearer, and Garry Winogrand, who record in intimate detail how street-savvy New Yorkers navigate the bustling landscape.
In photographs like Stan Getz, Birdland, from 1949, Herman Leonard places the viewer in the center of the action, in the audience or right on stage,to see some of the most important musicians in American history perform. “The vibrancy and the excitement in the jazz clubs are palpable’” explains Mia Laufer, exhibition curator and PhD candidate at Washington University in Saint Louis.
In pictures of anonymous strangers like Leon Levinstein’s Man Holding Cup, where the heads are cropped and the camera angle tilted, the impression may appear candid and off-the-cuff, but Levinstein carefully composed this photograph to create the impression that we are walking down the street ourselves.
“Photographers working in New York were fascinated by both the glamorous lives of the rich and famous, and the darker undercurrents of urban poverty,” notes Laufer. “Despite the drastically different settings and circumstances surrounding their work, the photographers whose pictures are showcased in this exhibition.