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Making Photographic History #SouthOfUnionSquare

Today we’re celebrating the accomplishments of some historic lenspeople who made their mark in the neighborhood South of Union Square.

Photography was one of the many creative industries shaped and transformed by this district (one that has yet to be recognized and protected by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, but you can help preserve the area by clicking here). Let’s take a look at a few of the photographers who lived and worked in the area where Greenwich Village meets the East Village.

Charles Gatewood

The noted photographer Charles Gatewood, who maintained a studio at 8 East 12th Street, made his name with the image of Bob Dylan called “Dylan With Sunglasses and Cigarette,” while working for a Swedish news agency in 1966. He then went on to work as an assistant at the Jaffe-Smith photography studio in Greenwich Village and to complete freelance assignments for Time, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone.

According to his Times obituary, Gatewood was a “photographer of extremes,” with a career defined by depictions of the “subcultures of strippers, sex-club devotees, bikers, body piercers and fetishists.” In addition to his freelance work, Gatewood developed his own photo documentary collections and completed more than 30 documentary videos. 

Cranmer C. Langill

The renowned American photographer Cranmer C. Langill, known for his iconic shot of the Blizzard of 1888, had his studio at 10 East 14th Street at the turn of the 20th century. He captured his famed photo just a few blocks south on West 11th Street, and it remains the image of the event and its impact on the city.

Fred W. McDarrah 

The Village Voice was headquartered at 80 University Place in the 1970s. Fred W. McDarrah was the Voice’s primary (and often only) photographer since the newspaper’s inception in 1955. He covered the Village counterculture, Gay Rights, Women’s Rights, the Vietnam War, Experimental Theater, and other movements centered around the Village. He was married to Gloria McDarrah, who after his death continued to preserve his body of work.

You can explore some of Fred McDarrah’s work in our Historic Image Archive here and here, or listen to Gloria McDarrah’s oral history here.

Robert Mapplethorpe

The Robert Samuel Gallery opened at 795 Broadway in November 1978, specializing in photography by gay male artists including Robert Mapplethorpe. The Robert Samuel Gallery was committed to featuring both established and nonestablished artists.

According to Frances Terpak and Michelle Brunnick’s book Robert Mapplethorpe: The Archive, Mapplethorpe was also an active partner in the business, which offered an opportunity to introduce the image of the sexual male into the mainstream art world. The gallery held solo and group exhibitions of Mapplethorpe’s work until it closed in the early 1980s.

Mathew Brady

Mathew Brady was one of the most well-known photographers of the 19th century. During the American Civil War, he and his staff captured for the first time on camera the tragedies of war. A revolutionary way of broadcasting disturbing images to an as-then unaware public, hundreds of photographs of soldiers lying dead in fields became accessible to households across the country. Though Brady often staged scenes and “touched up” photographs to maximize the horror of his subject matter, he was nonetheless an integral figure in the history of photographic documentation and has since become known as “the father of photojournalism.”

On February 27, 1860, relatively unknown presidential hopeful Abraham Lincoln gave his celebrated Cooper Union address at the Cooper Union Foundation Building at Cooper Square between Astor Place and East 7th Street. Earlier in the day, he had called on Brady to take his portrait at his nearby temporary studio in today’s NoHo (643 Broadway, northwest corner of Bleecker Street, which was demolished and replaced by a Neo-Grec style tenement building in 1878).

After his short time in that studio, Brady moved to his new location at 785 Broadway in the fall of 1860 and remained here for the rest of his career. Lincoln, as well as other key figures of the era, sat for a number of portraits for Brady during his presidency. That historic studio’s home is now long gone, replaced on the corner of Broadway and East 10th Street with a more modern apartment building in 1955.

There’s plenty more to learn about the district south of Union Square, not only about photographers and photographic innovations here but also about its history in civil rights, politics, arts and culture, and more. Check out our #SouthofUnionSquare tour map, then help preserve this history and neighborhood by sending a letter to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Screenshot: Urban Archive/Village Preservation South of Union Square map

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