Capturing a 1950s dream home in photos
  • Photos raise money for an NABJ cause
  • Hulis Mavruk – Turkish-born artist who paints black people
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    Auction Finds

    1950s photos of cops, artist, black boys

    The flat box was lying practically in the middle of a wide table of throw-away items at the auction house. So I had to stretch my arms pretty far over to retrieve it, and I was determined to do so.

    I had seen some large black and white photos peeking from under other stuff in the box and I wanted to know what was on them. I could only see part of the one on top: It was the face of a man in what looked like an artist’s studio, and I was immediately curious.

    Usually, the photos that come up at auction are old family photos, the folks in them staring directly into a Kodak or Polaroid camera. From where I was standing, I could see that these had a professional feel to them, taken by someone who knew what he or she was doing.

    1950s unsigned photo

    An artist in his studio.

    I removed the photos from under a dull gray ceramic tray in the box and saw that there were four of them – all around 9 x 13. They were  black-and-whites, and in two of them the photographer seemed to be experimenting with shades of light and dark. The man in the one on top, who had the face of an artist whose name I could not place, was almost shadowed in the darkness.

    As I slid his photo aside, others opened up: A woman posing with a bouquet of flowers, a phalanx of police officers walking along a street. They were either wearing or carrying white gloves indicating they were headed to a special event.

    On the back of this one was an inscription: “NYC Police. 1955.” It at least gave me some idea of when the photos were taken.

    The best of the lot was the last photo: Two little boys – arms around each other’s shoulders – walking through a park with trees heavily covered in blooms. One boy looked white and the other black, or both could have been two African American boys in different shades of brown. I liked the idea that the photographer saw two racially different boys walking in a place that represented rebirth, freshness and a new beginning at a time when society was forcing limits on friendships like theirs.

    1950s unsigned photo

    Two boys walking among trees in bloom.

    If this were New York, they could’ve been walking in Central Park in the spring in the 1950s. The boy on the left looked eerily familiar. Click on photo above for a full view.

    None of the other photos were dated nor were the people identified. That’s usually the case with family photos, too. People taking them at the time know who the folks are but don’t necessarily consider that the folks in the future would not.

    The photos appeared to have been developed not by your local drugstore but likely in someone’s darkroom. I have a friend who used to develop her own photos, bathing them in a chemical solution in the final process before hanging them to fade into full view to show what she had taken with her camera. Only the purists, I’m sure, do that anymore because the rest of us use digital cameras and email photos.

    1950s unsigned photo

    A woman enjoying her bouquet of flowers.

    From time to time at auction, one of those heavy metal enlargers from someone’s darkroom finds its way to the auction table, and like most everything else, it gets sold. The same is true for the old bulky but beautiful newspaper photographers’ and 35mm cameras.

    I found the photo of the artist just as intriguing as the boys because I’m always on the lookout for great artwork. To have four pieces of artwork – as I saw these photographs to be – were a great find. Another bidder apparently felt the same way because he stayed with me tit-for-tat for the lot. He was likely aiming for the photos of the boys and officers.

    The artist could have been both a sculptor and a painter based on what the photographer included in the photo. Behind him was an easel with paper, along with a saw on the ledge. To his left was a leg that looked to be sculpted and behind him to the left was apparently a painting of legs.

    1950s unsigned photo

    A photograph of New York City police officers, circa 1955.

    I liked all of the photos because each of them had the potential of telling a very different story and also evoking a very different slate of questions depending on who was looking at them. Who were the boys, why did they choose this route through the park and where were they going? Who gave the woman a handful of flowers that made her pensive? Where were the police officers headed, to a fun event or a sad one? What piece of artwork was the artist working on and what inspired it?

    The photographer raised so many questions with these photographs, and I’m sure that’s what he or she had in mind.

    I’d love to know who shot them. Do you recognize this photographer’s works or someone in the photos? Or was this someone like my friend who enjoyed the art of shooting what moved her and watching the finished product develop in the dark?



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