Although by turns whimsical and bold, Cunningham’s project also was part of the larger cultural zeitgeist in New York City, during an era in which issues surrounding both the preservation and the problems of the urban landscape loomed large. The photographer donated 88 silver gelatin prints from the series to the New-York Historical Society in 1976, and now, almost four decades later, Cunningham’s work will be reconsidered in a show that will highlight the historical perspective the photographs suggest—not just of the distant past, but of the particular time in which they were created.
Dozens of all-black teams emerged during the Black Fives Era, in New York City, Washington, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlantic City, Cleveland, and other cities where a substantial African-American population lived. The Black Fives Era came to an end in the late 1940s with the growth in stature of black college basketball programs combined with the gradual racial integration of previously whites-only collegiate basketball conferences and professional basketball leagues. The overarching significance of the Black Fives Era is that it is as much about the forward progress of black culture as a whole as it is about the history of basketball. This history is relevant today not only as a realization of our collective basketball roots but also as a search for identity.
The exhibition will be a collaboration and partnership between the New-York Historical Society and Claude Johnson, a historian and author who is the founder and executive director of the Black Fives Foundation, whose mission is to research, preserve, exhibit, and promote the inspiring pre-1950 history of African-American basketball teams in order to help teach life lessons, while honoring its pioneers and their descendants. Among its activities, the organization maintains a collection of artifacts, ephemera, memorabilia, objects, photographs, images, and other material relating to the period.
Claire Yaffa, whose work has been featured in The New York Times and several other major publications, has worked for years to document an intensely intimate, behind-the-scenes look at medical institutions and their youngest patients, giving agency and voice to thousands of
individuals—particularly children—struggling with life-threatening illnesses. Among the institutions that Yaffa has worked with during her long artistic career, the Incarnation Children’s Center in the Bronx—an organization that was one of the first to care for orphaned infants born with HIV—provided some of Yaffa’s most visceral subject matter, offering a stirring tribute to those affected by HIV/AIDS. Beginning in 1990, Yaffa visited Incarnation Children’s Center and was permitted to document the lives of these afflicted children and adolescents over a period of ten years, creating haunting portraits that capture the pathos and beauty of dozens of HIV’s youngest victims—most of whom did not survive to adulthood—and documenting the extraordinary devotion of the children’s caretakers.
The exhibition will have a special focus on two or three individual children’s stories and will featuring several of Yaffa’s emotionally moving, mid- to large-format, black and white photographs, and revealing with clarity and humility the often heartbreaking tales of children afflicted with HIV and AIDS.
Vergara remarked about his work that “most murals and street portraits of Dr. King are ephemeral. Paint fades, businesses change hands and neighborhood demographics shift. Gradually, images reflecting the culture and values of poor communities are lost….Often, my photographs are the only lasting record of these public works of art.” This exhibition offers the opportunity to study the manner in which Martin Luther King, Jr. has reached into the hearts of artists from New York to Los Angeles, Chicago to Detroit, and how the artists’s images have depicted the soul of the great civil rights leader in a manner that reaches out to communities nation-wide.
Camilo Vergara will donate all of the works in The Dream Continues: Photographs of Martin Luther King Murals by Vergara to the New-York Historical Society after the close of the exhibition. For more information on Camilo Vergara, visit his website.
The exhibition will also highlight images from the Historical Society's own collection, especially the marvelous and little-known portfolio of 889 photographs taken from 1966 to 1973 by Herman N. Liberman Jr., a member of the New York Stock Exchange, who walked 502 miles in a serpentine pattern along every street in Manhattan, from river to river, recording every single house of worship then in existence, including the most modest storefront and parlorfront churches and synagogues.p>
David Dunlap, a senior writer at The New York Times, is the photographer and co-author with Joseph J. Vecchione of Glory in Gotham (City & Company, 2001), the photographer and author of On Broadway: A Journey Uptown Over Time (Rizzoli International, 1990) and the photographer of The City Observed: New York by Paul Goldberger (Random House, 1979).
The New-York Historical Society's exhibit Tunnel Vision: New York Subway Construction Photographs, 1900–1908, explores the logistical challenges and remarkable effort that went into what at the time, was the largest construction project in the city's history. The exhibition showcases 80 photographs, culled from more than 5,000 from 1900–1908 in the Historical Society's Subway Construction Photograph Collection, all of which were a gift from the New York City Board of Transportation in 1950. Made primarily for insurance purposes, the overall collection contains nearly 60,000 photos showcasing buildings and streetscapes before, during and after construction of the of the entire subway system from 1900 until the last line was finished in 1947.
"These photographs capture the incredible human spirit behind this massive project and reveal the pride and willpower that laborers used in lieu of modern technology to make the subway a reality. This was truly a feat in modern engineering for the city to accomplish this task and Tunnel Vision will provide visitors with a snapshot into this extraordinary period of growth for New York," said New York Historical Society President & CEO Dr. Louise Mirrer.
The photographs and text panels document in vivid detail the "cut-and-cover" technique that the project's chief engineer, William Barclay Parsons developed. The process, in which crews dug a shallow excavation below the street surface and built a concrete and steel subsurface for trains to run through. The method was a painstaking process that required the relocation of thousands of sewer, gas and water mains and reinforcing buildings along the route. However, some of the exhibit photos clearly show how that many of the buildings did not survive and had to be demolished. While the IRT construction was marred by significant property damage, business disruptions and fatal accidents, it did succeed in addressing the city's basic objective: a cheap, reliable urban transit system. The five cent fare that remained in place until 1947 allowed an explosive growth of home construction throughout Upper Manhattan and the Bronx.
Most of the photographs from the early construction (1900–1908) are printed on platinum paper, which has proven to hold the images intact over the last century. The 65 prints in this exhibit are grouped geographically to show the transformation of key sites in New York City that were dramatically altered during the construction phase and then re-assembled afterward. Unfortunately, many historic structures did not survive the construction phase, or were re-rebuilt in a poor fashion to prevent them from living on today. "Tunnel Vision teaches a valuable lesson about the delicate nature of New York City's infrastructure and the challenges that lie ahead for any further expansion of the subway system," said Dr. Mirrer.