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Postwar New York in 65 unforgettable vintage pictures

5 Mins read

New York became home-city to many extraordinary photographers who shared love with their home with magnificent pictures. Oldpics selected 65 bright pictures of postwar street life that represent the spirit of the New York of the 1950s and 1960s.

In total, this set features postwar New York pictures by David Attie, Anthony Barboza, Donald Blumberg, Esther Bubley, Jeanne Ebstel, Bedrich Grunzweig, Simpson Kalisher, Jan Lukas, Benn Mitchell, Fritz Neugass, Beuford Smith, W. Eugene Smith, Todd Webb, and Weegee.

Some of these postwar New York pictures keep the identity bits of their authors; some just share their warm feelings in the city. The distortion technique added much to the still recognizable pictures of the Flatiron Building and Times Square. Some of the photographers explored new photo approaches, reshaping their photo concepts through in-camera or darkroom manipulation.

Todd Webb, Bedrich Grunzweig, and Eugene Smith captured the city scenes from the top-floor positions. Before taking his postwar New York pictures W Eugene Smith had just accomplished his Pittsburgh series. Smith’s images belong to his voyeuristic zaps series of the everyday routine outside his famous loft window. Random pedestrians try to navigate icy sidewalks as the cameraman witnessed and captured from above. 

Some photographers transferred their camera focus from Manhattan’s architectural masterpieces to the human-centric scenes in Brooklyn and Harlem. In Beuford Smith’s Palm Sunday, a young girl wearing a cross is seated in a packed subway car with her eyes closed, seeming to find her zen in the heart of the chaos. With a snapshot aesthetic, Jeanne Ebstel stilled the pure joy of city kids wearing swimsuits on the street, cooling off with water flowing from out of the frame. Weegee’s candid portraits shine a light, quite literally, on dark scenes featuring stardom such as Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. Conversely, Simpson Kalisher’s midday street images catch anonymous people and groups going about their routine.

Donald Blumberg produced a series of impromptu portraits that shift his subjects from space and time: only their heads are visible, with the majority of the frame filled only with darkness. Jason Farago wrote about the series for the New York Times: “For his engaging series “In Front of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral,” produced between 1965 to 1967, he would turn his camera, sometimes as much as 45 degrees off-center, and apply long exposure times to blackout the cathedral interior. The result was to exclude all context, and to turn the worshipers into highly detailed, if physically embarrassing, parts in the void.”

Donald Blumberg, In Front of St. Patrick's Cathedral, 1965

Donald Blumberg, In Front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, 1965

Weegee, Marilyn at the Circus, c. 1955

Weegee, Marilyn at the Circus, c. 1955

Weegee, James Dean in Greenwich Village, c. 1955

Weegee, James Dean in Greenwich Village, c. 1955

W. Eugene Smith, As From My Window I Sometimes Glance, ​1957

W. Eugene Smith, As From My Window I Sometimes Glance, ​1957

W. Eugene Smith, As From My Window I Sometimes Glance, ​1957–1958

W. Eugene Smith, As From My Window I Sometimes Glance, ​1957–1958

W. Eugene Smith, As From My Window I Sometimes Glance, 1957–1958

W. Eugene Smith, As From My Window I Sometimes Glance, 1957–1958

W. Eugene Smith, As From My Window I Sometimes Glance, 1957

W. Eugene Smith, As From My Window I Sometimes Glance, 1957

Todd Webb, Shops at Sixth Avenue near Rockefeller Center, 1947

Todd Webb, Shops at Sixth Avenue near Rockefeller Center, 1947

Todd Webb, Corner of 6th Avenue & 47th Street, with Rockefeller Center building in the background, 1948

Todd Webb, Corner of 6th Avenue & 47th Street, with Rockefeller Center building in the background, 1948

Time Square traffic

Time Square traffic

Peter Jingeleski, The day the Earth stood still

Peter Jingeleski, The day the Earth stood still

Jeanne Ebstel, Untitled, c. 1949

Jeanne Ebstel, Untitled, c. 1949

Jeanne Ebstel, Untitled, c. 1946

Jeanne Ebstel, Untitled, c. 1946

Herald Square Distortion, by Wegee, c. 1950

Herald Square Distortion, by Weegee, c. 1950

Esther Bubley, On South Street at noon time, 1946

Esther Bubley, On South Street at noontime, 1946

David Attie, Flatiron Building, c. 1955

David Attie, Flatiron Building, c. 1955

Beuford Smith, Palm Sunday

Beuford Smith, Palm Sunday

Donald Blumberg, In Front of St. Patrick's Cathedral

Donald Blumberg, In Front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Beuford Smith, Flag Day, Harlem, 1976

Beuford Smith, Flag Day, Harlem, 1976

Benn Mitchell, Times Square 42nd Street, New York City, 1952

Benn Mitchell, Times Square 42nd Street, New York City, 1952

Bedrich Grunzweig, NYC, 1948

Bedrich Grunzweig, NYC, 1948

Bedrich Grunzweig, April Shower, 1951

Bedrich Grunzweig, April Shower, 1951

Bank of New York, 1959 by Simpson Kalisher

Bank of New York, 1959 by Simpson Kalisher

Anthony Barboza, NYC, 1970s

Anthony Barboza, NYC, the 1970s

Anthony Barboza, Cactus & Shadows

Anthony Barboza, Cactus & Shadows

'Summer in Brooklyn', by Jeanne Ebstel, c. 1947

‘Summer in Brooklyn,’ by Jeanne Ebstel, c. 1947

Weegee, Washington Square Park, c. 1955

Weegee, Washington Square Park, c. 1955

Weegee, Untitled, c. 1945

Weegee, Untitled, c. 1945

Todd Webb, View South from the top of the RCA Building showing the Empire State Building, 1947

Todd Webb, View South from the top of the RCA Building showing the Empire State Building, 1947

Todd Webb, View East from the 24th floor of the Esso Building, 1947

Todd Webb, View East from the 24th floor of the Esso Building, 1947

Simpson Kalisher, Untitled, c. 1949

Simpson Kalisher, Untitled, c. 1949

Simpson Kalisher, Untitled (Staten Island Ferry), c. 1949

Simpson Kalisher, Untitled (Staten Island Ferry), c. 1949

Simpson Kalisher, Untitled (Penn Station), c. 1949

Simpson Kalisher, Untitled (Penn Station), c. 1949

Simpson Kalisher, The shining airplane, c. 1948

Simpson Kalisher, The shining airplane, c. 1948

Louise Rosskam, New York City- Trucking. Trucks under the Third Avenue elevated platform, 1945

Louise Rosskam, New York City- Trucking. Trucks under the Third Avenue elevated platform, 1945

Jeanne Ebstel, Untitled, c. 1947

Jeanne Ebstel, Untitled, c. 1947

Jeanne Ebstel, Untitled, c. 1946

Jeanne Ebstel, Untitled, c. 1946

Jan Lukas, Untitled, 1964

Jan Lukas, Untitled, 1964

Jan Lukas, Untitled, 1963

Jan Lukas, Untitled, 1963

Jan Lukas, New York, Fulton Fishmarket, 1964

Jan Lukas, New York, Fulton Fishmarket, 1964

Jan Lukas, New York, 32nd Street, 1964

Jan Lukas, New York, 32nd Street, 1964

Jan Lukas, New York City, Brooklyn Bridge, 1964

Jan Lukas, New York City, Brooklyn Bridge, 1964

Jan Lukas, Flatiron Building, 1966

Jan Lukas, Flatiron Building, 1966

Fritz Neugass, Untitled, c. 1948

Fritz Neugass, Untitled, c. 1948

Fritz Neugass, The Sun Breaks Through, c. 1948

Fritz Neugass, The Sun Breaks Through, c. 1948

Fritz Neugass, Reflections- Empire State in a Rain Puddle, c. 1948

Fritz Neugass, Reflections- Empire State in a Rain Puddle, c. 1948

Fritz Neugass, Penn Station, c. 1948

Fritz Neugass, Penn Station, c. 1948

Fritz Neugass, 42nd Street, c. 1948

Fritz Neugass, 42nd Street, c. 1948

Esther Bubley, Weehawken, New Jersey. View looking east from 50th Street and East Boulevard showing New York Central piers, Hudson River and Midtown Manhattan skyline, 1946.

Esther Bubley, Weehawken, New Jersey. View looking east from 50th Street and East Boulevard showing New York Central piers, Hudson River and Midtown Manhattan skyline, 1946.

Esther Bubley, View of Third Avenue El looking downtown from 53rd Street. The El goes as far downtown as the Battery, 1946

Esther Bubley, View of Third Avenue El looking downtown from 53rd Street. The El goes as far downtown as the Battery, 1946

Esther Bubley, New York Harbor- View looking East on Fulton Street from Third Avenue El platform, 1946

Esther Bubley, New York Harbor- View looking East on Fulton Street from Third Avenue El platform, 1946

Donald Blumberg, St. Patrick's Cathedral routine

Donald Blumberg, St. Patrick’s Cathedral routine

David Attie, Untitled, c. 1955

David Attie, Untitled, c. 1955

David Attie, Times Square, c. 1955

David Attie, Times Square, c. 1955

David Attie, New York Distortion, 1950

David Attie, New York Distortion, 1950

Beuford Smith, Man with Roses, 125th Street

Beuford Smith, Man with Roses, 125th Street

Beuford Smith, Boy Holding Flag

Beuford Smith, Boy Holding Flag

Benn Mitchell, Times Square, 1950

Benn Mitchell, Times Square, 1950

Benn Mitchell, Times Square 42nd Street, New York City, c. 1955

Benn Mitchell, Times Square 42nd Street, New York City, c. 1955

Benn Mitchell, Mirrors of Life, Self-Portrait, 42nd Street, 1950

Benn Mitchell, Mirrors of Life, Self-Portrait, 42nd Street, 1950

Benn Mitchell, Mirrors of Life, 42nd Street, 1949

Benn Mitchell, Mirrors of Life, 42nd Street, 1949

Bedrich Grunzweig, Times Square at Night, New York City, c. 1959

Bedrich Grunzweig, Times Square at Night, New York City, c. 1959

Bedrich Grunzweig, Four Santas in a New York Bus, Christmas, 1954

Bedrich Grunzweig, Four Santas in a New York Bus, Christmas, 1954

Anthony Barboza, Harlem, NY

Anthony Barboza, Harlem, NY

Jan Lukas, Untitled, 1964

Jan Lukas, Untitled, 1964

Jan Lukas, New York, 1964

Jan Lukas, New York, 1964

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1 month ago

[…] This story is well known. But Oldpics loves to retell it every time with new details and pictures. In addition to our various not-so-dramatic photographs of NYC. […]

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