Esther Bubley’s New York City

Esther Bubley (1921-1998) was an American photographer who worked under Roy Stryker at U.S Office of War Information and subsequently the Standard Oil Company. In her long and largely overlooked career, Ms. Bubley created a vast archive of editorial and personal work that captures her subjects quietly and unobtrusively. It’s hard to find images with the subject noticeably aware of her presence. Those who knew her noted her general respect for humanity in the recording of everyday moments in the lives of ordinary people. No doubt an admirer of childhood, Ms. Budley’s images show children often in tender moments. Most striking is an image of Toni Parks, daughter of Gordon Parks, in a bathing suit reaching to put the tips of her toes in water. Framed directly in the center, a crack in a large rock guides the viewer to the white trim of Toni’s bathing suit. It is in images such as that and of a young boy penciling on eyebrows, that show Ms. Bubley’s aim to show children as accurately as possible.

The tendency to view Ms. Budley’s archive with nostalgia for a lost New York is hard to combat, as some of her subjects, namely The Parachute Jump at Coney Island and Third Avenue El, no longer exist. Yet when one moves past such a viewing, , you can begin to see the uninterrupted interactions between people. The views of two woman at Rockefeller Center and two men at the Greyhound Bus Station show such interactions. In her work, Ms. Bubley was able to combine her artistic and journalist eyes, creating many beautiful images such as a man cleaning the Prometheus statue at 30 Rockefeller Center. In this image, the tonal quality of the statue and the worker’s shirt, in addition to their similar poses seem to combine the figures. The artist’s images combine the work of photojournalism with mere observation through the lens to showcase the painful, beautiful, and mundane nuances of living in America.  

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