14 September 2011

The City in Colour

"Golden Gate Bridge-Marin End" (1938)

How is it I'm just now finding out about Charles Weever Cushman? An amateur photographer, he took more than 14,000 photos over a period of 30 years beginning in the late 1930s. Among the photos are your requisite scenic shots as well as images of street scenes and everyday people. What makes these so remarkable is that he shot them on Kodachrome, an expensive colour film that was normally used by professionals. Accustomed to seeing the past in black and white, images such as these allow us to see history in a whole new light. The image above, taken just one year after the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge, is striking because of the red car. It also reminds us that not all cars back then were black.

"Stores near corner of Broome St. and Baruch Place, Lower East Side, NYC." (1941)

Or take this street scene from New York's Lower East Side. I've done all of the Tenement Museum tours and read countless accounts of the area but seeing the neighbourhood in colour, and especially the people, allows me to imagine what it was like to live there a bit more than before (note: except for the signage, a lot of the buildings in his New York shots look pretty much the same today).

"Three bums from South Ferry flophouses. At Battery Park NYC." (1941)

It's hard not to love an image whose description includes the words "bums" and "flophouses." What faces these men have. I wonder what they were talking about or if any of them had any idea that by the end of the year the country would be at war.

Cushman left his collection to his alma mater, Indiana University, and the University Archives has a great website where you can see more of the images and read up on Cushman's life. Please check it out.

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