Thursday, July 19, 2012

Humans of New York: Turn of the Century Edition

Humans of New York, a self-proclaimed “photographic census of New York City”, has become a social media sensation over the past few months. Brandon Stanton, the photographer behind the ambitious project, captures residents and visitors of the five boroughs, highlighting their diversity in dress, heritage, hairstyle, and attitude. This unofficial record of the ever-changing face of New York City isn't the first photography project to document the people that roam New York City.

[Serbian Gypsies.]
 Augustus Sherman,"Serbian Gypsies", ca. 1906; 
                                    Image Courtesy New York Public Library                                

In the early 20th century, as large waves of immigrants were coming to New York to start new lives in a promising country, Augustus Francis Sherman photographed newly arrived immigrants as they passed through Ellis Island to officiate their entrance into the United States. He worked as the Ellis Island Chief Registry Clerk, and probably began taking these photographs at the request of the Commissioner of Immigration for the Port of New York at Ellis Island at the time, William Williams. Now in the trustworthy hands of the New York Public Library, these pictures once graced the pages of National Geographic (1907) and the walls of the lower Manhattan headquarters of the Federal Immigration Service.

While these portraits give us an idea of what people looked like as they entered their new lives in a strange country, it is very possible that they were partially staged by Sherman. Some subjects might have been detainees, while others might have changed into their finest garments—generally reserved for holidays or special occasions—in order to up the portrait’s theatricality. In any case, they offer a rare but impressive insight into the real faces of the people that would come to shape our nation at the turn of the century (many of them settling on the Lower East Side of New York City!)

Augustus Sherman,"Albanian soldier",
Image Courtesy New York Public Library
Augustus Sherman,"Guadeloupean woman", 1911;
Image Courtesy New York Public Library

[German stowaway.]
Augustus Sherman,"German stowaway", ca. 1911;
 Image Courtesy New York Public Library 

Augustus Sherman, "Alsace-Lorraine girl",
ca. 1906;
Image Courtesy New York Public Library
Augustus Sherman, "Dutch children", ca. 1905-1914;
Image Courtesy New York Public Library

-- Posted by Ana Colon

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