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New York Exposed: Photographs from the Daily News, Part I

February 21 - April 25, 2004

 

The Bruce Museum of Arts and Science in Greenwich, Connecticut, presents New York Exposed: Photographs from the Daily News, Part I, the first in a two-part exhibition that features nearly 100 selections from over six million images in the Daily News newspaper archive, by far the largest and most comprehensive archive of images of New York City. Part I, which spotlights photographs from the years of the newspaper's inception in 1919 through the end of the 1950s, features 40 images and is on view February 21 through April 25, 2004. Part II, which follows immediately, from May 1 through July 4, 2004, will cover the years from 1960 through the present.

News photography is one of the most exciting and varied types of photography, capturing on a daily basis the dynamic vitality and throbbing tempo of the urban metropolis, from its street life to news events, celebrity shots, sports events, murder and mayhem. It covers a broad range of styles and subjects and is the perfect medium to capture the rapid-fire events of the day and present them to the world in the form of the newsprint page.

The Daily News, published in New York City, has one of the largest daily newspaper circulations in the United States. It first appeared on newsstands on June 26, 1919. The original logo included a camera adorned with wings and the first day's editorial stated, "We shall give you every day the best and newest pictures of the interesting things that are happening in the world." (right: Harold "Stubby" Kruger performs a comic diving stunt in Long Beach. Summer 1927. © Daily News LP)

An important part of the impact of the Daily News was the way photographs dominated the content of the paper, by the 1920s taking up forty percent of the editorial space (or "news hole," in newspaper jargon). Eventually, the entire centerfold of the paper would be devoted to photographs. The editorial use of picture spreads and large pictures to tell a story revolutionized American journalism, influencing the use of photo essays in such later magazines as Life and Look. This use demanded that the photographs be of the highest quality, as was born out in 1956 when, for the first time, the Pulitzer Prize was awarded not to a single photographer, but to the entire staff of twenty-six Daily News photographers for "consistently excellent news picture coverage."

The first of this two-part exhibition presents photographs from 1919 through the 1950s, a time when photographing for a daily newspaper was an adventurous and often dangerous pursuit. In the twenties, lighting the picture was accomplished by igniting flash powder, fired with a four-inch square flash pan. There were many accidents, including one to photographer Al Willard, in which he suffered extensive burns and nearly lost an eye. In the early days, news photographers climbed to dizzying heights, faced murderers and felons, and froze in the open cockpits of the Daily News's six planes, several of which crashed along the way. The rigid deadlines, especially in the pre-digital days, added additionally to the stressful nature of being a news photographer.

In the 1920s, the seven staff photographers also had to wield heavy cameras, including the German Ica, which captured images on four-by-six glass plates, and the cumbersome but dependable Speed Graphic. Though technical improvements included development of the small, hand-held Leica camera (1925), the flash bulb (1930), the light meter (1932), and much later, the invention of digital photography that revolutionized the taking of photographs, news photographers continued to face exhilarating and dangerous conditions in pursuit of the perfect shot. (right: Flagpole sitter Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly stands on his head and eats donuts on October 13, 1939. Photo by Charles Hoff © Daily News LP)

The history of the Daily News is also the history of innovation in photographic technology, with the photographers constantly revising and inventing new cameras and equipment. News photographer Lou Walker invented the first telephoto lens," the Big Bertha," a formidable piece of equipment that allowed Daily News photographers to excel in sports and other previously inaccessible types of photography, including the Hindenburg disaster. It was Daily News photographers who had Madison Square Garden fitted with strobes so that they could better capture the action. In the mid-1930s photographer Harry Warnecke designed a special camera to accommodate three plates, the red, blue and yellow, needed to produce a color photograph. Warnecke subsequently began producing one color picture each week on the cover of the Sunday rotogravure section, approximately seventy years before The New York Times began running color photographs on its front page.

In the course of its daily reporting, the publication produced some of the most memorable images of the century. The exhibition is filled with such photographs: Charles Lindbergh, after completing the first solo non-stop transatlantic flight; breadlines during the Great Depression; a jubilant victory toast after Joe Louis won the world heavyweight boxing championship. One of the most famous images was the sensational 1928 execution photograph of Ruth Snyder strapped in the electric chair for the murder of her husband. The first such picture ever taken, it was captured with a secret camera strapped to the leg of Daily News photographer Tom Howard and resulted in turning many people against the death penalty. The shot of the German zeppelin Hindenburg exploding upon its arrival in Lakehurst, New Jersey, in 1937 is another not-to-be-forgotten image. The photographs in the exhibitions range from the tragic and compelling to important and historic to the funny. They are images of our not too distant past and, in many cases, images that cannot be forgotten.

 

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