New York: A Bird’s Eye View @De Lellis

JTF (just the facts): A group show including a total of 48 black and white and color photographs, mostly framed in black and matted, and hung in the main gallery space. All of the images are vintage aerial photographs of New York city, and were taken between roughly 1875 and 1960. (Installation shots at right.)

The following photographers have been included in the show, with the details of the works on view in parentheses:

  • Berenice Abbott (3 gelatin silver prints, 16×16, 14×10 or 16×5, 1932-1938, and 1 photogravure, 13×10, c1932/later)
  • American Illustrated Stereograph (1 albumen print, 4×7, c1876)
  • Anonymous (2 bromide prints, 6×8, 1884, 1 albumen print, 5×10, c1876, 1 albumen print, 9×16, c1900, and 1 group albumen prints, 6×8, c1876)
  • Margaret Bourke-White (1 gelatin silver print, 9×13, c1930)
  • Charlotte Brooks (1 gelatin silver print, 13×10, 1943)
  • Harold Haliday Costain (3 gelatin silver prints, 9×20, c1930)
  • John Paul Edwards (1 gelatin silver print, 9×20, c1925)
  • Fairchild Aerial Surveys (1 gelatin silver print, 14×18, 1931)
  • W. Gray (2 albumen prints, 6×8 or 7×9, c1890)
  • Horsman’s Cabinet Photographs (1 albumen print, 4×6, c1875)
  • International News Photo (1 gelatin silver print, 10×8, 1930)
  • J.S. Johnston (1 albumen print, 7×9, 1893 and 1 bromide print, 8×6, c1890)
  • Keystone View Company (1 gelatin silver print, 5×7, 1937)
  • Arthur Lavine (1 gelatin silver print, 13×9, 1965)
  • Ben Judah Lubschez (1 gelatin silver print, 6×9, c1925)
  • Nickolas Muray (1 gelatin silver print on gold paper, 4×4, 1927)
  • Fritz Neugass (1 gelatin silver print, 10×8, 1947)
  • Peyser & Patzig (1 gelatin silver print, 10×7, 1930)
  • Press Photo (1 gelatin silver print, 7×10, 1945)
  • George Rockwood (1 albumen print, 7×9, c1880)
  • Charles Rotkin (2 gelatin silver prints, 10×13, c1950)
  • Edward Scherck (1 gelatin silver print, 8×10, c1930)
  • William Gordon Shields (4 gelatin silver prints, 14×11, 13×10 or 9×19, 1915-1917)
  • Samuel Stebbins (1 gelatin silver print, 14×11, c1934)
  • Fred Stein (2 gelatin silver prints, 14×11 or 9×7, 1940-1945)
  • Howard Suchurek (1 chromogenic print, 19×9, c1960)
  • Todd Webb (1 gelatin silver print, 8×9, 1947)
  • Paul Woolf (5 gelatin silver prints, 8×6, 9×7, 8×7 or 8×10, 1935-1940)

Comments/Context: As collectors of city and industrial images, we’re fascinated by the geometric patterns that are created by the interactions of architecture and by the density of built structures that make up all kinds of cities. This show brings together nearly a century of aerial views of New York city, providing both a rich historical record and an evolving survey of how landmarks and urban buildings were used as the raw material for photographic experimentation.

Chronologically, the show begins with 19th century views of the city, when the tallest structures were the church spires that poked up through the uniformity of squat warehouses and apartment blocks. With the advent of the skyscraper, the skyline took shape, and steep views downward into the concrete canyons below became more possible – instead of looking up into the sky at the outlines of famous buildings, artists were looking down into the chaos of the streets. Actual aerial surveys (shot from airplanes) were also taken from even higher vantage points, putting the tall buildings in wider panoramic context. As expected, the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building make repeated appearances in these photographs, providing a visual anchor against hazy clouds or the dark shadows of dusk.

My favorite images in the show are those that induce a bit of vertigo, where the angles get distorted and the walls of buildings bend in unexpected ways. They forgo the heroic romance of the broad vista and instead give us the frenetic, spine tingling energy of the city.

Collector’s POV: For the most part, the prints in this show are reasonably priced, ranging from $150 to $8500, with a sweet spot between $2000 and $5000. The outliers are the vintage Berenice Abbott prints, which are priced between $18000 and $26000.
Rating: * (1 star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Reviews: Gothamist (here), Wall Street Journal (here, scroll down)
  • Feature: NY Times (here)
New York: A Bird’s Eye View
Through November 20th
Keith De Lellis Gallery
1045 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10075

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