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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

 5251626, New York Public Library
Sharecroppers' children on Sunday, near Little Rock, Arkansas. Image ID: 5251626
 5338462, New York Public Library
Arkansas sharecropper. Image ID: 5338462
 5326678, New York Public Library
Waiting for relief agent, Scott's Run, Monongalia County, West Virginia. Image ID: 5326678

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

 5665559, New York Public Library
George Avakian and Anahid Ajemian during the Ajemian sisters' first European tour. Image ID: 5665559
 5649287, New York Public Library
George Avakian recording Sidney Bechet. Image ID: 5649287
 5649237, New York Public Library
Earliest photo of George Avakian, with his parents in Tiflis. Image ID: 5649237

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

 5154611, New York Public Library
Joan Mitchell. Image ID: 5154611
 5154371, New York Public Library
Helen Frankenthaler. Image ID: 5154371
 5154297, New York Public Library
Willem DeKooning. Image ID: 5154297

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

 110149, New York Public Library
From forest to mill. Image ID: 110149
 G91F306_021F, New York Public Library
View of Log-raft. Columbia River. Image ID: G91F306_021F
 110132, New York Public Library
Sawing timber. Image ID: 110132

I am always amazed by how we do what we do, for better, for worse, all the while. —Steven Crossot, Assistant Manager, Digitization Services

 433127, New York Public Library
Housetop life, Hopi. Image ID: 433127
 5111981, New York Public Library
“Mobile anti-aircraft searchlights…” Image ID: 5111981
 5147219, New York Public Library
Storm. Image ID: 5147219

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

 482799, New York Public Library
Blossom Restaurant, 103 Bowery, Manhattan. Image ID: 482799, New York Public Library
 3999921, New York Public Library
Testing meats at the Department of Agriculture. Beltsville, Maryland. Image ID: 3999921
 5233691, New York Public Library
Scott's Run mining camps near Morgantown, West Virginia. Domestic interior. Shack at Osage. Image ID: 5233691

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

 482844, New York Public Library
Chicken Market, 55 Hester Street, Manhattan. Image ID: 482844
 482591, New York Public Library
Bread Store, 259 Bleecker Street, Manhattan. Image ID: 482591
 482595, New York Public Library
Pingpank Barber Shop, 413 Bleecker Street, Manhattan. Image ID: 482595

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

 5038710, New York Public Library
Tiger Man: Animal Graffiti, 14 St. Image ID: 5038710
 5038738, New York Public Library
Pretty Long Haired Woman Looking Up: Pretty Man in White Polo Looking Down. Image ID: 5038738
 5038756, New York Public Library
Woman Through Graffiti Window is Caught Unaware By Camera: Crowded Group in Car, Woman in Fur Coat and Wool Hat Looks at Camera. Image ID: 5038756

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


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