National Photo Month at the Digital Imaging Unit
The Digital Imaging Unit at The New York Public Library is an extraordinary place filled with talented artists and photographers who are dedicated to providing the public with images from the library’s special collections. I’m particularly fond of the notion that the work we do helps to release information from the page and put it at the fingertips of a new kind of internet-connected public library patron. This flow of information and its impact also has a reverse component, for we often and unexpectedly find ourselves transformed in the process.
Interacting with the special collections materials in the way we do, carefully and expertly handling the rarest and most fragile artifacts of our shared cultural heritage, and putting these objects in front of the highest-resolution cameras available reveals details and moments that inevitably stop us in our tracks. We see a person in a window looking back at the camera, an erasure, inky fingerprints on the back of a manuscript, the otherworldly skill and precision required to accomplish a particular drawing or print, or we pause in front of the overwhelming beauty of an object. We find ourselves seeing the objects, photography, the world, and ultimately ourselves differently after these encounters. As professional photographers, nothing brings us more pleasure than to be faced with the prints of photographic luminaries and to be able to attend to their translation into the networked landscape.
Here are a few highlights from our most beloved encounters with the library’s photo collections that we’ve seen along the way. —Eric Shows, Digitization Services Manager
I was very fortunate to handle most of the Library’s collection of Ben Shahn’s Depression-era FSA photographs. Shahn was primarily a painter and illustrator, which I think made him uninhibited behind the camera, but also very observant. He photographed his subjects in such a thoughtful way that they do not come across as victims from a bygone era, but as real and relatable people. —Martin Parsekian, Collections Photographer
I selected these images because I find it fascinating that we can appreciate and witness through them the life, work, and legacy of American music producer/writer, George Avakian. I think is great that not only was he recognized for playing a major role in the development of jazz, but also for impacting the lives of many great artists through his work as a music producer. —Jenny Jordan, Collections Photographer
I selected photographs of Willem DeKooning, Helen Frankenthaler, and Joan Mitchell by Walter Silver. These images capture the people behind iconic New York School paintings. The casual studio shots help me to imagine living and working with the abstract expressionists in the 1950s New York. —Rebecca Baldwin, Collections Photographer
I am always amazed by how we do what we do, for better, for worse, all the while. —Steven Crossot, Assistant Manager, Digitization Services
These three images represent the peculiarity of the library’s photographic collection. The romance and exoticism of Edward Curtis’ images of Native Americans from the early 20th century, official U.S. government press photos of military from WWI, and an annotated work print from the Walter Silver collection, with unintentionally ironic subtext. —Adam Golfer, Collections Photographer
These are a few of the photographs that have stuck with me over the years, by Berenice Abbott, Carl Mydans, and Walker Evans. Whether capturing the graphic signage and intensity of expression on people’s faces, the oddity of a testing scene or the subtle beauty and pride portrayed through a domestic scene, they all resonate with me in different ways. —Pete Riesett, Head Photographer
I love exploring the NYPL's photography collections because of the historical and pictorial relevance of the works they hold, including Berenice Abbott's Changing New York—a series of stunning, iconic black and white photographs of the "old" city. Abbott was an extraordinarily skilled architectural photographer, but I especially enjoy her methodical documentation of storefronts as an integral part of the city, featuring visually glorious layers of texture and content. —Allie Smith, Collections Photographer
These are just a few images in a wonderful series by photographer Alen MacWeeney that were taken in 1977 in the NYC subway. At first glance I love these photographs because of how cool and stylized they look depicting the 1970s graffiti covered New York. Then you peer in closer and you see how MacWeeney added his own twist to the images by pairing two separate images to create diptychs which at first sight might appear to be one image. That creates an interesting narrative between the cast of characters. Added plus with these images is that no one is typing away on their phones and it doesn’t appear as crowded and jam packed with people as it is today. But there are things in the photos that never change on the subway and are timeless. —Marietta Davis, Collections Photographer