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New Photography Exhibitions at the New-York Historical Society Document the Architectural Landmarks of New York City

NEW YORK, NY.- Two new exhibitions of photographs, Landmarks of New York, curated by Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, and Harlem 1970-2009: Photographs by Camilo José Vergara, will be on view at the New-York Historical Society from April 30 through July 12, 2009, offering visitors contrasting yet complementary visions of the urban landscape as a site of historic change. The 83 black-and-white images in Landmarks of New York, taken by various photographers, document notable buildings, interiors and scenic landmarks throughout the five boroughs that have been given landmark status by the City of New York. The 100 images in Harlem 1970-2009, all taken by MacArthur Foundation “genius award” winner Camilo José Vergara, show streetscapes that the photographer visited repeatedly over the course of 38 years, so he could create a composite, time-lapse portrait of a vibrant, world-famous neighborhood seen as a place of ongoing transformation.

Landmarks of New York has traveled to 82 countries under the sponsorship of the United States Department of State since 2006 and is now coming home to New York for its final showing. The photographs in the exhibition will then enter the collection of the New-York Historical Society, through a donation from the exhibition’s curator, Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel. Harlem 1970-2009 is organized by the New-York Historical Society and is made possible with grant funds from The New York Community Trust. Both exhibitions are presented under the supervision of Marilyn Kushner, New-York Historical Society Curator and Head, Department of Prints, Photographs and Architectural Collections.

“Photographs of buildings show how a physical setting can tell the story of the people who live in it. When an area is in such transition as Harlem has been in the end of the twentieth century, having these images also helps us maintain an urban memory that becomes essential to the history of the city,” Kushner states. “In Harlem 1970–2009: Photographs by Camilo José Vergara, we see a comprehensive and permanent record of the visual effect of decades of change in one neighborhood. Similarly, Landmarks of New York documents in a significant manner what we all need to know about New York’s architectural heritage and New Yorkers’ efforts to preserve that past for ourselves and for future generations.”

Each of the photographs in Landmarks of New York is accompanied by historic descriptive text about the landmark and its significance to the social fabric of New York. The photographs, selected from images of more than 1,224 landmarks designated between 1965 and March 2009, include views of buildings constructed between 1640 and 1967. Some notable examples (photographed by Jeanne Hamilton, Christine Osinski, Michael Kingsford , Michael Stewart, Christopher D. Brazee and Tony Gonzales) include Bowne House (1661) in Queens, and in Manhattan, City Hall (1803-12), Chrysler Building (1928-30), Empire State Building (1930-31), Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Interior (1956-59), One Chase Manhattan Plaza (1957) and Ford Foundation Building (1963-1967).

“Among American cities, New York is the leader in the preservation of its landmarks and in the range and quality of its surviving architectural resources. The abundance and variety of these buildings is surprising, ranging from the best efforts of our finest architects to excellent examples of vernacular building types,” said Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel. “Hidden within this great metropolis is evidence of our proudest achievements: the taverns and farms of the eighteenth century; the factories, banks and offices of the nineteenth; and three centuries of urban housing that speaks to the needs of every group--from the modest to the well-to-do. In its twentieth-century civic buildings, factories, office towers, universities, museums, parks, and houses of worship, one will find the history of New York’s citizenry written large in buildings that express its most noble aspirations and deepest values. The exhibit was originally conceived to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the passage of the New York City Landmarks Law, and it embodies the spirit of the City as seen through its built environment. That in the four years since this exhibit was originally mounted, nearly 30 percent of these distinguished structures have undergone significant renovation or important additions, approved by the Commission, testifies to the New York City Landmarks Law’s ability to grow with, and adapt to, a building’s needs and that Landmarks are far from frozen in time.”

“We are thrilled to add the photographs from Landmarks of New York to our collection,” Marilyn Kushner commented. “Architects, architectural historians and preservationists use the Historical Society’s resources as they design, restore, and renovate. The addition of these photographs greatly enhances our collection.”

The photographs in Harlem, 1970-2009 tell a different kind of story. Selected from the artist’s archive on the Invincible Cities web site (, the exhibition includes highlights such as a sequence of eight photographs taken between 1977 and 2007 outside of 65 East 125th Street, showing the successive lives of the building: as a local nightclub, a discount variety store, a smoke shop, a clothing boutique, a Sleepy's bedding outlet, and (most recently) a vacant storefront with a “for rent” sign posted on the building.

“This urban documentation project breaks with the ways historians, planners and other scholars traditionally approach urban space,” Camilo José Vergara states. “My method of documentation is based on presenting sequences and networks of images to tell how Harlem evolved and what it gained and lost in the process. The premise behind all the work that I do is that 100 pictures are one hundred times more powerful than one picture. The more you track something, the deeper and more eloquently it speaks.”

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