Photo of the Week: Early Spring

[Brooklyn Photographs: Prospect Park-lake], ca. 1975, V1990.2.176; Donald L. Nowlan Brooklyn collection, ARC.120; Brooklyn Historical Society.

[Brooklyn Photographs: Prospect Park-lake], ca. 1975, V1990.2.176; Donald L. Nowlan Brooklyn collection, ARC.120; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Spring is my favorite season in Brooklyn, so the early spring-like temperatures lately make me excited for the warmer months ahead. What excites you about springtime in Brooklyn? Personally, I can’t wait to spend time in Prospect Park, reading and riding my bike. With that in mind, the photo of the week depicts the reservoir in Prospect Park in early spring, sometime around 1975.

This photograph has a pink tone which can occur from older photographic prints. Color photographs are naturally unstable and impermanent, with the color dyes fading at different rates. While largely unavoidable, the deterioration and discoloration of photographs can be delayed by proper storage and care. General guidelines for the storage of photographs includes a relatively dry (30-40% relative humidity), cool (room temperature or below), stable environment. To learn more about the care of photographs, check out this useful resource, created by the Library of Congress.

This photograph comes from the Donald L. Nowlan Brooklyn collection. Donald L. Nowlan grew up at 470 3rd Street in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn. He attended Brooklyn schools from elementary through college. The photographs in this collection include 122 color photographic prints, 165 color slides, and three black-and-white photographic prints taken by Nowlan that document Brooklyn in the 1960s and 1970s. The primary subject-matter of the photographs are Coney Island, Brooklyn Botantic Garden, Prospect Park, and the Reenactment of the Battle of Brooklyn in Prospect Park (circa 1979). To view more photographs from this collection, check out this gallery.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. library@brooklynhistory.org

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New to the Library Collection: Tauranac New York City Subway Maps

New York City Subway Map,

New York City Subway Map, Tauranac Maps, 2014. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

This special edition of the Map of the Month celebrates a recent donation to the library: a set of New York City transit maps designed and published by Tauranac Maps. Pictured above is a portion of the latest Tauranac New York City Subway map and guide, published in 2014. I have long wished to have a version of this map in our collection as it represents an alternate lineage of the modern New York subway map. It is a refinement of the map published in the 1960s, a map deemed so visually confusing it prompted a major redesign in 1972. While the current MTA map is clearly an improvement on the austere and abstract Vignelli map that was the result of the 1972 redesign, the Tauranac map develops a different set of design elements from the 1960s maps.

The Map of the Month for July 2014 featured the famed 1972 Massimo Vignelli diagram of the New York City subway system and outlined in brief the objections to the map. Among the complaints were its distortion of geographic features and its lack of detail about routes and schedules. A committee was formed in response and charged with the creation of a more geographically representative map with more complete information for riders. That committee was headed by John Tauranac, a freelance writer and map designer, who had recently published Seeing New York: The Official MTA Travel Guide (1976). The result of the committee’s work was the adoption in 1979 of the Michael Hertz Associates map as the official map of the MTA, which is still in use today (with frequent updates). By 1992, Tauranac thought he could improve on the official MTA map and began publishing his own map of the New York City subway system. Tauranac has published several versions of this map through 2014, incorporating system updates and sometimes refining design elements along the way.

Noteworthy in the latest edition is Tauranac’s inclusion of the first phase of the Second Avenue subway line scheduled to open at the end of 2016. (Click on the image of the map to zoom in and see the new line.) This line is not yet depicted in the MTA map. What you will not find on Tauranac maps are Long Island Railroad or the Staten Island surface rail routes, as you will on the official subway map. Tauranac maps are subway only maps.

Clearly there are similarities between the Tauranac and MTA maps. Compare the two segments of the latest version of both maps below. Both are diagrammatic, in that clarity is favored above geographic accuracy. Both rely on color-coded trunklines to depict the different subway lines (a technique borrowed early on from the London Underground maps). Both identify station stops outside the trunk lines.

Detail, The map, 2015. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

Detail, The map, Metropolitan Transportation Authority, 2015. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

Detail, New York City Subway Map, Tauranac Maps, 2014. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

Yet notice how the Tauranac map has created clarity by using only 45 or 90 degree angles to depict the subway lines. The same alignment is also used for the station identifications. The MTA map is clearly trying to depict the actual, more curving lines of the subway lines and shows the stations stops at the various distances. In terms of visual impact, the two maps are very different, with the Tauranac map clearly emphasizing visual clarify and uniformity.

Another element not found on a Tauranac map are the text bubbles that ‘float’ over the less busy parts of New York and point to stations to clarify multiple transfers. Instead, Mr. Tauranac has repurposed the text boxes found in the 1967 map published by the NYCTA, the very map that prompted the redesign by Vignelli. You can see clearly how Mr. Tauranac has been inspired by this earlier map by following this link.

Although the Tauranac map has preserved the simple geometry of the lines and the boxes identifying the lines within the trunk lines, there have been significant improvements. The Tauranac map shows transfers much more simply and clearly by connecting the white station identification boxes. Mr. Tauranac has also opted to eliminate the redundant red areas indicating transfer stations and the circular line identification labels that made the 1967 map so visually overwhelming.

With just this brief look at these few features, it is clear the Tauranac map represents a parallel vision sprung from the NYC transit map designs of the 1960s and 1970s. Tracing the design revisions of the Tauranac maps themselves as they were published from 1992 to 2014 would make an interesting study as well. You can do this for yourself anytime during the library’s open hours, Wed.-Sat., from 1-5 p.m. No appointment is necessary to view these maps.

These maps were added to the collection of the Brooklyn Historical Society Library and Archives through donation by John Tauranac in 2015.

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Real Brooklyn, a day in our lives photographs now available at BHS

Chosen for Mom, by Doris Adler, 2003

Chosen for Mom, by Doris Adler, 2003; Real Brooklyn, a day in our lives photographs, 2007.041, Box 1; Brooklyn Historical Society.

This post was authored by BHS Library and Archives processing intern Melissa Aaronberg. Melissa processed the Real Brooklyn, a day in our lives photographs in December 2015, which are now open and available to the public in our library. For more information on the photographs, please see the collection’s finding aid.

In 2007, the former President of Positive Focus, Inc., Lorrie Palmer, donated seventeen photograph albums from their 2003 exhibition, Real Brooklyn, a day in our lives, to Brooklyn Historical Society. Positive Focus, Inc., was a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting artists that has since ceased operation.

Real Brooklyn, a day in our lives was a celebration of Brooklyn’s neighborhoods and residents. These photographs capture every day moments in these residents’ lives, and imbue them with a sense of wonder.  Subjects were photographed in many Brooklyn neighborhoods including DUMBO, East New York, and just about everywhere in between. The photographs include both black-and-white and color prints. The ethnic diversity of Brooklyn is represented thoroughly. Viewers can take a brief peek into the lives of Hasidic schoolchildren in Williamsburg, Russian ladies in Brighton Beach, and Latino teenagers in Sunset Park, all in one collection.

Untitled (Pacific St. subway, 6:15 pm), by Karen Stead Baigrie, 2003

Untitled (Pacific St. subway, 6:15 pm), by Karen Stead Baigrie, 2003; Real Brooklyn, a day in our lives photographs, 2007.041, Box 1; Brooklyn Historical Society.

This collection includes both professional and amateur photographers who offer unique perspectives on what it means to live in and experience Brooklyn. Many are native New Yorkers, but others call Brooklyn their adoptive home.

I will profile one photographer here. Takeshi Yamada, originally from Osaka, Japan, moved to Coney Island in 2002. He first came to the United States in 1983 to study art at the California College of Art and Crafts in Oakland.  In an interview with historian Amanda Deutch for the Coney Island History Project, he opined that “I didn’t choose Coney Island – it chose me.” The spectacle and “step-right-up” nature of Coney Island suits him well (speaking of suits, Yamada is easily spotted strolling through Coney Island in a black tuxedo and top hat). He tells Deutch that he was inspired to move to Coney Island after attending a show by Bobby Reynolds, an entertainer devoted to preserving the tradition of the sideshow and circus.

Yamada and Horseshoe crab, by Takeshi Yamada 2003; Real Brooklyn, a day in our lives photographs, 2007.041, Box 4; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Yamada and Horseshoe crab, by Takeshi Yamada, 2003; Real Brooklyn, a day in our lives photographs, 2007.041, Box 4; Brooklyn Historical Society.

As an artist, Yamada is fascinated by taxidermy and ocean creatures. His Museum of Wonders, which mixes taxidermy with the traditions of traveling freak shows, was on display for more than four years at the Coney Island Library on Mermaid Avenue.  Yamada’s submission to “Real Brooklyn” is in keeping with his ocean themes. This photograph shows Yamada holding up a horseshoe crab on a Coney Island beach. Although the crab obscures his face, his clothing, the sand, and the boardwalk attractions are visible. The photograph captures the fun loving nature not only of Yamada, but of Coney Island itself.

Yamada is just one of over one hundred photographers whose work is featured in this collection. The photographs in Real Brooklyn, a day in our lives will be of interest to scholars and anyone with a love of all things Brooklyn.

Source: Yamada, Takeshi. Cony Island History Project. Interview by Amanda Deutch. http://www.coneyislandhistory.org/oral-history-archive/takeshi-yamada

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Photo of the Week: Car barn

[Flatbush car barn], ca. 1885, v1972.1.830; Early Brooklyn and Long Island photograph collection, ARC.201; Brooklyn Historical Society.

[Flatbush car barn], ca. 1885, v1972.1.830; Early Brooklyn and Long Island photograph collection, ARC.201; Brooklyn Historical Society.

The photo of the week depicts a car barn that once stood at Flatbush and Tilden Avenues in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, sometime around 1885. The car barn housed horse-drawn trolleys that carried passengers between Fulton Ferry, Flatbush, Coney Island, and other areas of Brooklyn. Also pictured is James Monell (the small boy with pail), who was the original owner of this photograph and who lived on Erasmus Street in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. If you’re interested in learning more about transportation and development in Flatbush, check out this page from BHS’s digital exhibition, An American Family Grows in Brooklyn: the Lefferts Family Papers.

This photograph comes from the Early Brooklyn and Long Island photograph collection comprised of nearly 1,400 black-and-white photographs taken by various photographers from 1860-1920. The majority of the photographs in this collection depict views of Brooklyn and Suffolk County. To see more photographs from this collection, check out this gallery.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. library@brooklynhistory.org

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Photo of the Week: Adrian Vanderveer Martense

[Three men and a boy standing on sidewalk in Brooklyn] 1880 ca, v1974.7.1; Adrian Vanderveer Martense collection, ARC.191; Brooklyn Historical Society.

[Three men and a boy standing on sidewalk in Brooklyn] 1880 ca, v1974.7.1; Adrian Vanderveer Martense collection, ARC.191; Brooklyn Historical Society.

The photo of the week depicts Adrian Martense (center) posing with a box camera, and two gentlemen, Henry K. Sherril and HMS Sherril. Eddie Tepper (on tricycle) is pictured in the background. This photograph was taken sometime around 1880 in an unidentified location in Brooklyn.

Self-portraits were surprisingly common in the early days of photography as a means of exploration. In fact, what was likely the first photographic portrait ever was a self-portrait. Self-portraiture is one of the most fascinating areas in the history of photography. It is through self-portraiture that you see experimentation in the medium and the “artist’s presentation of self” though photography.

Martense was an amateur photographer in the late 19th century and actively documented his neighbors, friends, homes, and streets in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. It’s unclear if this is a self-portrait or if it’s a portrait taken by an unidentified photographer. Either way, to me, this portrait of Martense holding a camera, surrounded by neighbors or friends, in a Brooklyn street scene truly represents Martense as a documentarian of his community.

This photograph comes from the Adrian Vanderveer Martense collection. This collection contains lantern slides and glass plate negatives taken by Martense in the late 19th century in Brooklyn. Martense was a descendent of early Dutch settlers in Brooklyn. The Martense family were longtime residents of Flatbush, until their home was sold in 1889. To view more photographs from this collection, check out this gallery.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. library@brooklynhistory.org

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