Thursday, March 3, 2011

Questions for Curatorial - Brown Brothers

Who are were the Brown brothers? Were they reformers? Where they newspaper men? Where do their pictures fit in the history of photography alongside Jacob Riis? Are they using the flash? Why are they seemingly lesser-known than Riis? Were they, like Riis, immigrants? What was their connection to tenement living? Was their aim to expose hazards or were they just kind of peep-showing among the great unwashed?

Brown Brothers was and continues to be a stock photo agency. Established in 1904 in New York City, the firm claims to be the oldest stock photo agency in the nation.

They were neither reformers nor immigrants. Brown Brothers was founded by brothers Arthur and Charles Brown, themselves New Yorkers. Brown Brothers eventually had a staff of 12 photographers covering a wide variety of subjects with a particular focus on New York, immigrants, and urban life.

Like Riis, they relied on the flash. Indeed, at the turn of the 20th century, the same halftone process of reproducing photographs used by Riis became widespread in such printed matter as newspapers. Previously, newspapers used artists and engravers to illustrate their issues. In 1904, great dailies such as The New York Times did not have their own staffs of photographers. Instead, they turned to Brown Brothers for daily news assignments.

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