Berenice Abbott, New York at Night, silver print, 1932; printed 1980s. Estimate: $8,000 to $12,000.
No visitor or local has ever walked down New York City’s tremendous avenues or across its residential streets, from river to river, without wishing they had a camera. The city is known for anonymity, and even a person with a lens in hand goes unnoticed among the noise of pedestrians and cars. The subway, the sidewalks, the storefronts, the tops of buildings, the parks, the pigeons and the displaced—everyone and everything has served as the subject of New York City photographers. From Edward Steichen to Weegee to Roy DeCarava to André Kertész, these great photographers all called this city their muse. A special section of the October 19th Fine Photographs & Select Photobooks auction is devoted to images of the city.
Roy Schatt, Woman on N.Y. Dock, silver print, 1948. Estimate: $2,000 to $3,000.
Photographing the city is both an intimate and public experiment—the woman sitting alone in Roy Schatt’s melancholy image of a downtown dock, impish children at play as photographed by Helen Levitt, the ecstasy of the downtown counterculture as photographed by Weegee—each moment is personal, but enacted before a city of millions. Roy DeCarava’s photograph of dancers in Harlem evokes the freedom and voyeurism of street photography, one of the most prevalent themes of New York images.
Perhaps the exemplary photographer of New York City is Berenice Abbott, who called the city a “human gesture,” and her desire to document the expanding skyline and city streets a “fantastic passion.” Her photographs mark a moment in time for this ever-evolving city.
Left: Helen Levitt, New York City, silver print, 1940; printed late 1980s. Estimate: $5,000 to $7,500.