I recently visited my brother in Paris, and in preparation for this trip, I went to see an exhibit of historical photographs at the Metropolitan Museum – Charles Marville: Photographer of Paris. Beginning in the mid-19th century, a city planner named Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann master-minded a program for the improvement and beautification of Paris, razing entire streets and neighborhoods in Paris with the same zeal that Robert Moses would adopt in New York City in the next century. The city of Paris hired photographer Charles Marville to chronicle the city’s transformation during this period of change. Wandering through the exhibit, viewing Marville’s photographs collectively gave me a sense of Paris and the changes to the landscape and how people lived in the city in a way that I would not have had if I had viewed the same images individually.
The photographs of a changing Paris that I saw at the Met made me want to see similar images of a changing New York City. While Brooklyn Historical Society does not have collections of images dedicated to individual photographers hired by the city, we do have thousands of images of the city that collectively capture the changing landscape of New York in a way that is similar to the Marville images. Brooklyn Historical Society’s Early Brooklyn and Long Island photograph collection (ARC.201) shows the city in the late-1800s and early-1900s. The Eugene L. Armbruster photographs and scrapbooks collection (v1974.1) includes some early images, but focuses on the city as it was in the 1920s. The John D. Morrell collection (v1974.4 and v1974.9) focuses on the late-1950s and 1960s. Brooklyn Historical Society also has the Edna Huntington papers and photographs collection (ARC.044), capturing the city landscape and people in the 1940s, and smaller collections that focus on specific moments and events in the city in the 1970s and into the present.
The four images displayed above have been pulled from different collections, but were all taken within approximately a half mile radius in the neighborhood of Bedford Stuyvesant between the 1870s and 1958. When viewing the images collectively, these pictures chronicle the development of Bed-Stuy from a bucolic setting to one of Brooklyn’s densest neighborhoods, all within the span of a few generations.
Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our new website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m.
Author: Halley Choiniere