GOOD MORNING MIDNIGHT

helen levitt

While when it comes to NYC street photography I tend to rave mostly about Bruce Davidson (I’ve blogged about Brooklyn Gang probably like sixteen times by now for real) and while the slick, stylish urban glitz of his work creates a romantic vision of this city which I can’t get enough of, Helen Levitt is among my favourites as well.

Along with Walker Evans and Henri Cartier-Bresson, Levitt’s widely considered part of a triumvirate of great street photographers of the early twentieth century.  Her work though somehow seems more empathetic than either of theirs — almost always candid, frequently of the elderly or children, unpretentious and somehow restrained.  Levitt was an unobtrusive photographer — even when Walker Evans snapped photos of subway riders from a camera hidden in his overcoat, he framed and edited them to look like formal portraits.  In contrast, Levitt was one of those photographers who chooses the awkward images: the imperfect shots, mid-gesture, that look more like film stills than paintings, frames from a hidden surveillance camera rather than calculated representations.    

As compared to Evans’ more polished, clean portraiture and Cartier-Bresson’s decidedly Parisian glamour, Levitt’s work is gritty, uncomfortable, and occasionally downright weird — somehow the most honest portrayal of New York of the three.  Her photographs of city streets, which range from the 1920’s to the 1990’s, somehow still always seem familiar despite the distance in years, as if she’s captured something quintessentially New York that persists even today.

More after the jump, as usual.

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new york hardcore

I’m sorry, how cool are these?  This summer I queued-to-post-but-didn’t (this is how this blog actually works, by the way, as if it was run by a CRAZY PERSON)  KT Auleta’s hardcore-inspired spread with Tasha Tilberg from Twin Magazine, because it, I don’t know, felt weird and stylized and like too clean or something, and I felt like I was maybe only into it because they totally made her look like the girls I had crushes on in high school when I was going to craptacular NJ hardcore/emo shows before I actually knew that I had crushes on them and thought I just wanted their moshpit sweat/haircut in like a really intense way or something, and because the styling was just, like, how I dress on a daily basis anyhow.

SO here as a replacement half a year later, we can post these actual photos from the hardcore scene in NYC from the days before CBGB was a John Varvatos store, which are way more awesome than any Twin editorials anyhow.  Also, the lady that took them supposedly ended up being in The Silence of the Lambs and Grey’s Anatomy? Oh, okay. More after the jump. [via SB+TVC]

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prohibition and 20’s glam, televised and otherwise

I’ll admit it — I’ve kind of turned into a Person Who Watches Television after years of sort of having a high horse over sticking my nose in the air and making obnoxious comments about not having owned a television in yeeeaaaaaars. But amongst others (True Blood, Mad Men, and, um, Glee), HBO’s Scorsese-directed star-studded Boardwalk Empire has captivated me — secretly I’m kind of a big dork for period pieces (accurate or not) and I just can’t get enough of the architecture and clothes and even the advertisements against the backdrop of the Jersey shore in the 1920’s.  Because, seriously, is there anyone who doesn’t grossly overromanticize the 20’s? You basically can’t go wrong. 

Slick HBO dramas aside, Contexts recently put together a great little summary of some of the less obvious facts about life under prohibition - things like that wine was still somewhat legal, which in turn kicked off the wine industry in California, that speakeasies weren’t quite as secretive and glamorous as we’d like to think (damn!) and that alcohol could still be prescribed “medicinally.”  (Whiskey for toothaches, plz.)

And of course, as it turns out, the LIFE archives are rife with photoessays of prohibition-era images, and the US Coast Guard even has a hilarious collection of images from their liquor patrol boats of the time period.  And searching the Google-hosted LIFE image archive (ps this is my favourite thing ever basically) pulls up hundreds more images from the time period, and despite the historically less-than-glamorous facts, the photos are just as rich and stylish as HBO’s pricey reproduction.  More images of both after the jump!

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hell’s angels

SO. My obsession with the LIFE Magazine archives has come up before, as well as my affinity for photos of white trash gangs of the 50s and 60s (how many times can I post Bruce Davidson photos?) Also I have recently become a Person Who Watches TV On The Internet after years of being a Person Who Does Not Watch TV And Makes Snarky Comments About People Who Do, which I feel medium-serious conflicted about, but either way amongst the TV I have been watching on the internet is Sons of Anarchy, so maybe I just secretly am into really badass motorcycle chicks and trashy clothes or something.  SO IT IS NOT A SURPRISE that I basically peed myself over this formerly-unpublished photo story about Hells Angels in California in the mid-60’s.  CAN WE PLEASE NOTE the a.) curlers and b.) broken nose above?!

More after the jump, and the full story (minus crappy watermarks from saving) here

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fashion history + the silk city

Secret history geek that I am, I loved this little video with a brief history of the fashion industry and Fashion Week here in NYC, more than a little bit in comparison to the NYFW madness going on around me.  I was psyched to see a video from a publication that addressed fashion history in terms beyond what the biggest designers sent down the runway and the richest, whitest women wore to the most public events; it’s easy for us to forget the sheer number of people participating in the fashion industry, the large majority of whom cannot wear any of the clothing actually produced, and also of the extent to which the development of an American fashion industry is closely intertwined with the development of both American and NYC identity and history, on all levels from labor organization to architecture. 

Which got me thinking historically about things I’d forgotten — much of my family hails from Paterson, NJ, nicknamed the “Silk City” for its heavy silk an textile production in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and a huge percentage of my family worked in the textile and clothing industries in various ways, from working in the silk mills to working at the now-defunct Meyer Brothers department store, which is taking epic amounts of internet research to find anything about ANYWHERE, alas! (My grandfather is full of stories of working in the “dye-house,” as he calls it. He was probably, like, 14.)

And so: Lil’ history lesson after the jump! So you can stop looking at everyone’s iPhone shots of the runway for 10 minutes!

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Apparently in 1904, this was EXTREMELY RACY — ankles, oh noez!! This stuff fascinates me — both changing ideas of what is and isn’t risqué and the strange associations/double entendres of everyday activities.  What’s the deal?  

I’ve found lots of these mildly racy, early twentieth-century images of mending, and it isn’t that surprising. Associations between mending and sex are conventional and familiar from centuries of genre painting and portraiture: a woman looking at the work in her lap gives a man an opportunity to look at her; a female servant bent over her darning displays her hands or chest; an idle stitcher clearly has her mind on other things.

[More at Socimages.]

Apparently in 1904, this was EXTREMELY RACY — ankles, oh noez!! This stuff fascinates me — both changing ideas of what is and isn’t risqué and the strange associations/double entendres of everyday activities.  What’s the deal?  

I’ve found lots of these mildly racy, early twentieth-century images of mending, and it isn’t that surprising. Associations between mending and sex are conventional and familiar from centuries of genre painting and portraiture: a woman looking at the work in her lap gives a man an opportunity to look at her; a female servant bent over her darning displays her hands or chest; an idle stitcher clearly has her mind on other things.

[More at Socimages.]

In honor of NYFW starting on one of the most abysmally bad-weather days of the year to date, two (totally unrelated, but equally awesome!) things.  First, above slideshow of ladies managing to look put-together (and warm, and not prone to ankle-breaking) despite presumably terrible cold and icy conditions.

And second: 1888 saw one of the worst blizzards in NYC history, which dropped almost 2 feet of snow (with drifts up to 20 feet) over the entire eastern seaboard in March of that year.  It destroyed telegraph wires (which at the time were all above ground — easy to forget that the whole city was once crisscrossed with even more wires than you see now), totally knocked out transportation in the city for weeks (big yellow plows: not around then), froze the East River solid (interfering with shipping and business across the nation), and caused hundreds of deaths. There’s a ton of fascinating stuff on this all over the internet, partially due to an exhibition on the storm in 1998 — plenty of incredible images here, info and personal accounts here, and a handful of newspaper articles from the time here.

So how is this relevant to today’s street fashion shots? One of the above articles from the Sun mentions the difficulty of maneuvering in a snowstorm in petticoats and hints at the discomfort and shame of having to gather one’s skirts to clamber over snowdrifts. (Though of course, only working-class women needed to do this — and besides, it wouldn’t do to mention a wealthy woman showing her ankles in the street!!  Note that the Sun was apparently the most politically conservative NY paper at the time.)

Few of the women who work for their living could get to their work places. Never, perhaps, in the history of petticoats was the imbecility of their designer better illustrated. "To get here I had to take my skirts up and clamber through the snowdrifts," said a wash-woman when she came to the house of the reporter who writes this. She was the only messenger from the world at large that reached that house up to half past 10 o’clock.

"With my dress down I could not move half a block," It was so with thousands of women; the thousand few who did not turn back when they had started out. Thus women were seen to cross in front of THE SUN office and at many of the busiest corners up town. But all the women in the streets assembled together would have made a small showing. They are said to be much averse to staying in, but they stayed in as a rule yesterday. At half past 10 o’clock not a dozen stores on Fulton street in this city, had opened for business. Men were making wild efforts to clean the walks, only to see each shovelful of snow blown back upon them and piled against the doors again.

"Have the girls come?" an employer asked of his partner. "Girls!" said the porter: "I have not seen a woman blow through Fulton street since I’ve been here."

I know I for one have a tendency to romanticize those hoop skirts and corsets and hook-and-eye boots and whatnot, but the fact is that for centuries, the link between women’s clothing and their oppression in society was undeniable — they were physically limited by the social limits of propriety in fashion, making even the most basic of tasks near impossible.  Shorter, looser dresses, pants, less restrictive undergarments, less ridiculous hats, easier hairstyles, and more practical shoes were things women actually fought for and which took years to turn around (let’s not forget how revolutionary Coco Chanel was at her time) — and a conservative newspaper’s recognition of the “imbecilic” design of petticoats fascinated me here.  I also was surprised by their choice to blame of women’s required fashion (and to dismiss those requirements as idiotic!) rather than their inherent laziness/smallness/immorality/stupidity/whatever usual excuses to explain their staying in — there just was no respectable or possible option other than to stay in when the weather was bad, and everyone accepted that as fact.  (Though perhaps the male writer was just excited to have a reason to express a frustration he’d met with petticoats in the past? Wink wink, nudge nudge.)

Point: I’m pretty psyched about my jeans and combat boots today, and would also like to extend a personal thank-you to my Rodarte-for-OC sweatshirt. You were worth the money.