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Carl Gustaf Nelson: Central Park, 1934
best of new york
Image by americanartmuseum
Central Park, 1934
Carl Gustaf Nelson, Born: Horby, Sweden 1898 Died: United States 1988
oil on canvas 31 7/8 x 44 in. (81.0 x 111.8 cm.)Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor 1964.1.119

Neither the cold of winter nor the gloom of the Great Depression kept the children of New York City from enjoying Central Park, the city’s greatest green space. Artist Carl Nelson had almost as much fun as the children, drawing by the hour despite the chill of February 1934. When his hands got cold, Nelson recalled, he “would go to the monkey house in the Central Park Zoo to warm up.”

Nelson shows the park on a weekday afternoon when it is full of mothers taking their toddlers out to play while the older children are in school. The brightly colored coats worn by the children and their mothers evoke their innocent delight. The southern end of the park, near the elegant hotels in the background, was designed for children. They could romp on the playground, ride the carousel, or play games in the Children’s Cottage. A little girl in an orange coat has plenty of fun just feeding the squirrels. Nelson’s charming image does not include the grimmer reality farther north in Central Park, where homeless people squatted in a shantytown or “Hooverville” as they waited for better times.

Personal, educational and non-commercial use of digital images from the American Art Museum’s collection is permitted, with attribution to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, for all images unless otherwise noted.

OMG! There’s a naked man over there, running up the street in this freezing-cold weather!
best of new york
Image by Ed Yourdon
Note: this photo was published in an Mar 29, 2012 issue of Everyblock NYC zipcodes blog titled "10024."


This is the continuation of a photo-project that I began in the summer of 2008 (which you can see in this Flickr set), and continued throughout 2009, 2010, and 2011 (as shown in this Flickr set, this Flickr set, and this Flickr set): a random collection of "interesting" people in a broad stretch of the Upper West Side of Manhattan — between 72nd Street and 104th Street, especially along Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. These are the people in my neighborhood, aka "peeps in the ‘hood."

As I indicated when I first started this project nearly four years ago, I don’t like to intrude on people’s privacy, so I normally use a zoom telephoto lens in order to photograph them while they’re still 50-100 feet away from me; but that means I have to continue focusing my attention on the people and activities half a block away, rather than on what’s right in front of me. Sometimes I find an empty bench on a busy street corner, and just sit quietly for an hour, watching people hustling past on the other side of the street; they’re almost always so busy listening to their iPod, or talking on their cellphone, or daydreaming about something, that they never look up and see me aiming my camera in their direction.

I’ve also learned that, in many cases, the opportunities for an interesting picture are very fleeting — literally a matter of a couple of seconds, before the person(s) in question move on, turn away, or stop doing whatever was interesting. So I’ve learned to keep my camera switched on, and not worry so much about zooming in for a perfectly-framed picture … after all, once the digital image is uploaded to my computer, it’s pretty trivial to crop out the parts unrelated to the main subject. Indeed, some of my most interesting photos have been so-called "hip shots," where I don’t even bother to raise the camera up to my eye; I just keep the zoom lens set to the maximum wide-angle aperture, point in the general direction of the subject, and take several shots. As long as I can keep the shutter speed fairly high (which sometimes requires a fairly high ISO setting), I can usually get some fairly crisp shots — even if the subject is walking in one direction, and I’m walking in the other direction, while I’m snapping the photos.

With only a few exceptions, I’ve generally avoided photographing bums, drunks, crazies, and homeless people. There are plenty of them around, and they would certainly create some dramatic pictures; but they generally don’t want to be photographed, and I don’t want to feel like I’m taking advantage of them. There have been a few opportunities to take some "sympathetic" pictures of such people, which might inspire others to reach out and help them. This is one example, and here is another example.

The other thing I’ve noticed, while carrying on this project for the past four years, is that while there are lots of interesting people to photograph, there are far, far, far more people who are not so interesting. They’re probably fine people, and they might even be more interesting than the ones I’ve photographed … unfortunately, there was just nothing memorable about them. They’re all part of this big, crowded city; but for better or worse, there are an awful lot that you won’t see in these Flickr sets of mine…

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