Two 1970s photography series that chronicled the urban landscapes of New York City are now accessible on interactive maps through the New York Public Library’s ongoing Photo Geographies project. In Doors, NYC, Roy Colmer photographed around 3,200 Manhattan doorways from 1975 to 1976. Around the same time, Dinanda Nooney was going door-to-door in a neighboring borough for At Home in Brooklyn, visiting and photographing the interiors of people’s homes.
Selections from both are currently on view in the NYPL’s Public Eye: 175 Years of Sharing Photographs exhibition in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue. The Photo Geographies are the initiative of David Lowe, a specialist in the NYPL photography division that has previously charted Chester Burger’s stereoscopic slide transparencies from his world travels and Fay Sturtevant Lincoln’s architectural photographs.
In a blog post last month announcing the At Home in Brooklyn map, Lowe described the brief, intimate portraits Nooney took of Brooklyn residents. There’s Johnny Redd who owned both VIP Sewer Cleaning and Verify Investigation & Protection Services at 416 Waverley Avenue, and rode a Harley so customized it looked “as if it were wearing a chrome Oscar de la Renta ball gown.” There’s also Conrad Milster, chief engineer of the Pratt Institute’s steam power plant, where he still works to this day making the retrotech run. Nooney even visited the Park Slope residence of Gerard Basquiat and Nora Fitzpatrick, although their 18-year-old son Jean-Michel was out at the time.
Along with Colmer’s photographs of the doorways, gates, loading docks, and even bricked up former entryways of buildings both residential and commercial, the Photo Geographies offer an accessible time capsule of New York in the 1970s. Similar to the Photogrammar platform launched last year by Yale University that organizes more than 170,000 Library of Congress photographs from the Great Depression onto a map of the United States, the cartography returns the geographic context that was central to both of the wandering photographers’ work.
Public Eye: 175 Years of Sharing Photography continues at the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street, Midtown East) through January 3, 2016. View the interactive maps of Dinanda Nooney’s At Home in Brooklyn and Roy Colmer’s Doors, NYC online.