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Helluva Town: New York City in the 1940s and 50s

Photographs by Vivian Cherry

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ISBN: 9781576874042

Photographs by Vivian Cherry
Text by Barbara Head Millstein

History / Street Photo / Photography / Monograph / New York City
HC, 8.25 x 11 inches, 96 pages,
80 duotone photographs
ISBN: 978-1-57687-404-2

Photographs by Vivian Cherry
Text by Barbara Head Millstein

History / Street Photo / Photography / Monograph / New York City
HC, 8.25 x 11 inches, 96 pages,
80 duotone photographs
ISBN: 978-1-57687-404-2

At the end of World War II, New York City went through a period of transformation, as war rations gave way to prosperity, loved ones were reunited, and babies were born into a new era. African American soldiers who fought in the name of democracy demanded equal rights at home while Billie Holiday reminded us of the Strange Fruit this country had given birth to. Women left the factories and returned to the domestic front, raising children and catering to their husbands who toiled in a pre-technological lifestyle that has long since disappeared.

Photographer Vivian Cherry began her career in the early 1940s while working as a dancer in Broadway shows and nightclubs. Cherry supported herself partly as a “darkroom technician” for Underwood and Underwood, a prominent photo service to news organizations. She began shooting the world around her during this time of change. As a street photographer she combined informal portraiture with cityscapes of the Lower East Side, the Third Avenue El (and it’s ensuing demolition), the streets of Harlem, Hell’s Kitchen, and the Meat Packing District.

Searching for more skill as a photographer, Cherry joined the Photo League, where she studied with Sid Grossman, who had a profound influence on countless photographers of the 1940s and 1950s. Cherry began selling photo essays to popular magazines while continuing to work in Broadway musicals and supper clubs. Her work from this period, collected here for the first time in Helluva Town, provides lively vignettes of our collective memory, suffusing gritty street scenes with warmth and gentleness alongside social consciousness and history.

Vivian Cherry’s work is in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the International Center of Photography, and the New York Public Library, New York; the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC; and Microsoft, amongst others, has appeared in Popular Photography, Life, Sports Illustrated, Redbook, and Ebony, as well as the famed magazines of yesteryear: This Week, Pageant, Colliers, Amerika, and Sinclair Oil. She made several short films and worked with photographer Arnold Eagle as a still photographer on a film about Lee Strasberg and the Lee Strasberg Institute.

Barbara Head Millstein worked on the staff of the Brooklyn Museum of Art for three decades, and was the Curator of Photography from 1998 to 2004. In 2000, she organized Vivian Cherry: Working Street Photographer, 1940s-60s, an exhibition of Cherry’s street photographs selected from the museum’s collection.

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