Photographic History

A Look At Charlotte Powell, Village Painter (Photograph)

Charlotte Powell, Village Painter seems to be following me around. Most recently, it came up in a course I recently completed for my graduate degree in Museum Studies. I also belong to many historical New York City photography groups on Facebook (Al Ponte’s Time Machine – New York and Bronx Third Ave El are two of my favorites) where I have seen it several times as well as websites like Gothamist and Monovision.

About the Photographer

Jessie_Tarbox_Beals_with_camera_Schlesinger_LibraryJessie Tarbox Beals (1870-1942) was a pioneer for women, working as the first published female photojournalist in the United States. While working, she carried heavy camera equipment while donning the bulky women’s fashions of the late 19th and early 20th century. Beals later opened her own studio as a divorced, single mother.

At the turn-of-the-century Beals lived and worked in Greenwich Village, which she photographed extensively. Greenwich Village, which resisted the City planning idea of the grid, was a haven for bohemian artists and writers. Beals may have found like-minded peers. It seemed natural that she would gravitate toward photographing the bohemians of Greenwich Village in New York City—the part of the City that said no to the grid and gave birth the Gay Liberation movement!  In her photograph of Charlotte Powell, Beals captured a fellow unconventional woman, dressed in overalls, doing traditional men’s work

Notes on the Photograph

The first thing I would like to note about this photograph is the fact that an early 20th century woman is wearing pants. And she is not wearing pants to be fashionable like Marlene Dietrich, she is wearing overalls, work pants, not unlike Amelia Earhart’s aviator pants. Like Earhart, Charlotte Powell is seen working at what was then considered men’s labor. In contrast to her overall gruff fashion, Powell is wearing a rather delicate looking watch. I couldn’t help but wonder what Beals was wearing when she took this photograph.

We see two sets of stairs in this photograph. Stairs are a principal and practical part of architecture that stand with a sense of purpose. In the same way that water gives and takes life, stairs can bring us up and plunge us down. Powell may be at the bottom of the stone stairs, but she is slowly climbing out of the prison (see the bars on the far right) of cultural norms on a rickety ladder being held together by string, of her making.

I find the sign above Powell concurrently appropriate and irksome. Appropriate because it gives us a geographic marker of sorts and irksome, because the curtains are drawn, and we have no idea what that The Village Store sells. But the sign is also well designed—I admired the way the typeface emphasized The Village.

While writing this, I became more intrigued by the photograph and tried to find this location using Google Maps. I wanted to see if this building was still standing. New York undervalues older buildings. I was unsuccessful in finding the possible location of this photograph.

New York Historical Society Label and Link

Title

Charlotte Powell, Village painter.

Collection Title

Jessie Tarbox Beals photograph collection, ca. 1905-1940.

Creator / Contributor

Beals, Jessie Tarbox

Identifier

Print Room – PR-004-02-13

Date

[ca. 1905-1916]

Subject

Women–Photographs
Women painters–Photographs

Subject personal name

Powell, Charlotte–Portraits

Subject geographic name

Greenwich Village (New York, N.Y.)–Social life and customs–Photographs
Greenwich Village (New York, N.Y.)–Photographs

Material type or medium of original

Photographic prints

Physical Description

1 photograph : gelatin silver print ; 10 x 8 inches

Rights management

This digital image may be used for educational or scholarly purposes without restriction. Commercial and other uses of the item are prohibited without prior written permission from the New-York Historical Society. For more information, please visit the New-York Historical Society’s Rights and Reproductions Department web page at http://www.nyhistory.org/about/rights-reproductions

http://digitalcollections.nyhistory.org/islandora/object/nyhs%3A1211

 

www.edwinroman.com

Brooklyn Bridge Tower One Plans

Stereoscopic Views Documenting the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge (Part One of Three)

Stereoscopic photography is a technique for creating the illusion of depth in an image via binocular vision.

This three-part blog looks at the stereoscopic photographs taken during the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. The history of the construction of the bridge as well as the history of stereoscopic photography will also be explored.

PART ONE: From Agrarian to Industrial Nation

The day before the Brooklyn Bridge opened, merchants, in the then City of Brooklyn, prominently displayed a sign in their windows that read:

Babylon had her hanging gardens, Egypt her pyramid, Athens her Acropolis, Rome her Athenaeum; so Brooklyn has her bridge.

Juxtaposing the Brooklyn Bridge with these structural engineering marvels was not premature: the bridge is more than just a span over water because of its innovative design and functionality. The bridge also represents America’s transition from agrarian to industrial society, fostered by the nation’s greatest resource: immigrants. Perhaps the bridge’s greatest achievements are in its visually collective aesthetic qualities: those that anyone, regardless of education or economic status, can understand and appreciate.

The idea for a bridge spanning over the East River was first proposed in 1800 by General Jeremiah Johnson (who would later serve as mayor of Brooklyn), in a pamphlet that examined the topography of Brooklyn:

It has been suggested that a bridge should be constructed across the East River to New York. This idea has been treated a chimerical from the magnitude of the design; but whosoever takes it into their serious consideration will find more weight in the practicability of the scheme than at first sight he imagined.

In other words, the builder of a successful bridge over the East River will have to conceptualize something new and never before attempted. The bridge would have to be able to withstand the elements and not interfere with the busy maritime traffic. Johnson went on to convey, “Every objection to the building of the bridge could be refuted.” A bridge of this magnitude would require vast industrial resources. Industry was something many Americans did not envision for the young nation. This sentiment was echoed, one year after Johnson’s pamphlet was published, when President Thomas Jefferson, in his inaugural speech, conveyed that America’s best defense against the corruption of the old world (crowded fuming cities) was to remain an agrarian society:

“Kindly separated by nature and a wide ocean from the exterminating havoc of one quarter of the globe; too high-minded to endure the degradations of the others; possessing a chosen country, with room enough for our descendants to the thousandth and thousandth generation.”

Rousseau theorized that democracy has “natural limits.” The concept of a republic had been realized in smaller nations, but could it survive on the large scale that America presented? Jefferson realized that in order to assure the Union and benefit from the land, a national system of roads and canals would have to be built. Interestingly, one argument for a bridge over the East River had to do with national security and a safe, viable connection to the nation’s largest city. America had to become an industrial nation in order to survive. Industry breeds technology and technology breeds industry. The day the bridge opened, one article from the New York Times declared, “With the towers and anchorages completed, the stone age, as it may be conveniently called, gave way to the period of steel.” Stone and steel, the materials that comprise the Brooklyn Bridge, also make it a factual, visual representation of the nation’s shift to industry.

SOURCES:

McCullough, David. The Great Bridge. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972

Trachtenberg, Alan. Brooklyn Bridge, fact and symbol. New York: Oxford University Press, 1965

Jefferson, Thomas, Koch, Adrienne, and Peden, William. The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson. New York: Modern Library, 1998

Barnett, Clive, Low, Murray. Spaces of Democracy: Geographical Perspectives on Citizenship, Participation and Representation. London: Sage, 2004

“Making The Big Cables” New York Times 24 May 1883

Early Plans for the Brooklyn Bridge, 1857

Early Plans for the Brooklyn Bridge, 1857