If you’re a history buff with a specific fondness for New York City history like myself, then I'm sure you've already heard that the Department of Archives launched a massive digital collection of nearly 900,000 photographs of the city that span over the course of 150 years. Apparently all 8 million of us jumped for collective joy and made a beeline for the website, because it immediately went under for maintenance seconds after being launched due to overwhelming traffic. I am happy to report that as of now, the site is up running, so you should definitely check it out.
Last Tuesday, Time Out New York narrowed down what they thought were the 50 best photos of NYC from 1849 to 2012. I've narrowed that down even further to my top five favorites:
1. "Children on Fire Escape" by Weegee (1938)
Can't stand your roommates? Feel like your apartment is just too small for all your shit? Be glad you aren't these poor kids. "Children on Fireescape" was taken by Weegee (born Arthur Fellig in Austria), and it's rumored that though he paid his models $2 each to spend on ice cream, their A-hole father kept the money for himself instead.
2. "Daguerreotype of a house on old Bloomingdale Road" (circa 1849)
I've got to give some mad history props right here with this nugget, said to be one of the oldest photos taken in NYC, sometime around 1849. It's a daguerreotype of a house on Bloomingdale Road which would have been the continuation of Broadway in and around the Upper West Side. Can you imagine having a front lawn on the Upper West Side? In 2009 this photo was auctioned at Sotheby's for $62,500.
3. "Bagels, Second Avenue" by Weegee (1940)
We here at FIPS are obsessed with bagels, so choosing this photo for my Top 5 was a no-brainer. Photographed by the aforementioned Weegee is this piece, titled "Bagels, Second Avenue," which was taken in 1940. It's the story of a baker named Max who, at the ass crack of dawn, carries his oven-fresh bagels to a restuarant on Second Ave for the breakfast rush. Max, you are an unsung hero to me.
4. "Philippe Petit Walking a Tightrope Between the World Trade Center Towers" by Jean-François Blondeau (1974)
Once again, 1 World Trade Center is the tallest building in New York City. For many it's not only a celebration, but a bitter sweet rememberance of the old twin towers. This iconic photo was taken by Jean-François Blondeau of Philippe Petit's unannounced morning stroll on a tight rope between the twin towers in 1974. That man had a brass set, my friends. Both the stunt and the photo are still breath-taking today. And if you haven't yet seen Man On Wire, a documentary about Petit and his infamous stunt, you absolutely should.
5. "Bandit’s Roost" by Jacob Riis (1890)
No, this isn't a line for brunch on Bedford Avenue. It's a bunch of bad ass dudes standing around a criminal hideout on Mulberry Street. Taken by legendary journalist Jacob Riis in 1890, this photo reminds us that NYC has always been home to a tough crowd. Of course, today these guys wouldn't hang out on Mulberry Street -- unless they plan on dropping $200 for some new trendy hats which, ironically, look just like the ones they're wearing in this photo.