Introduction | The City | Company Towns | Documenting the 1930s | Farming

Time Off | Working the Landscape | Working the Waters

(Click each image to view a larger photo and caption.)



Berenice Abbott, one of the foremost American photographers of the twentieth century, is best known for her documentary work. Throughout her long career, she photographed New York City and the changing American scene. Her realistic depictions capture the beauty and significance of her subjects.

Abbott’s photography career began in Paris in 1923 as an assistant to Man Ray. She opened her own portrait studio in 1925 and returned to America in 1929. Her 1935 “Changing New York” project was funded by the Works Progress Administration, a federal program.



David Fredenthal apprenticed himself to Diego Rivera on the Detroit Institute of Arts frescoes and attended the Cranbrook Academy of Art on three consecutive scholarships in the 1930s. Awards, commissions and exhibitions followed, including a show at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1947. In addition to working for the WPA and the War Department, assignments for Life magazine took him to Europe and Asia. His painting of dynamic city life became increasingly richer and complex.

Bread, probably painted during the Depression, focuses on a gaunt boy whose faceted face is Cubistic and bony. Looking as grim and cold as his surroundings, he chews blindly on the bread.





A lawyer, journalist and farmer, Galloway also owned the photography agency Ewing Galloway, Inc. which still operates today. Its stock images of many subjects have appeared in Life and Time magazines, as well as in countless books. Although the photographs traditionally had been attributed to Galloway, it was recently discovered that he did not take them. Instead they were the work of photographers whose identities remain anonymous.

This image recalls a vanished lifestyle and an industry using methods which have since become outmoded. Here a man tests a sample of milk before it was to go out, in glass bottles, on home delivery.




Hine was strongly committed to improving the lot of children across the United States. Employed by the National Child Labor Committee, he advocated humanitarian reform specifically through his photographic documentation of labor conditions. His captions for his NCLC work are both detailed and informative. Legislation protecting children was finally passed in 1916.

Although it also is descriptive and evocative, Hine’s later work embraced America’s emergence as an industrial power and celebrated the American worker. His 1930 and 1931 photographs of building the Empire State Building is a landmark study of the men who built one of American’s Depression-era architectural icons.




Landeck’s New York City scenes reveal his fascination with the patterns and oblique perspectives of buildings. He traveled to Europe after earning an architecture degree in 1927. Returning home in 1929, he was unable find work in his field because of the Depression. Instead he began printmaking, to which he devoted the rest of his life.

In this example, a dramatically deep perspective guides the viewer down a narrow alley towards a carriage and a tiny shadowy figure. Landeck identified this as a street where horse-drawn carriages from Central Park were kept. Instead of portraying lively action, he emphasized tall buildings which effectively shrink the carriage and figure to small objects, lost and melancholy in the streetscape.




Weegee was famous for his sensational photographs of bloody murder victims, fires, accidents and -- on the other side of town --society party life. Often competing with the N.Y.P.D. to be first at the scene, he worked at night to find dramatic images for the next day’s paper. His foregrounds are often highlighted and gradually soften into darker backgrounds, a dramatic effect which he called "Rembrandt lighting."

Born Arthur Felling, Weegee emigrated to the U.S. in 1910. At fifteen, he began helping a commercial photographer and in 1925 became a darkroom technician at Acme Newspictures. Ten years later he became a freelance photographer. His graphic photographs of the city’s dark side won him fame and made his 1945 book, Naked City, a bestseller.

IntroductionThe CityCompany TownsDocumenting the 1930sFarming
Time OffWorking the LandscapeWorking the Waters
The Workers' Landscape: American Images 1900 - 1950