I can’t resist poring over pictures of public markets. The hubbub, the variety of objects that demand a closer look, and the regular presence of stacks of food (albeit not always mouth-watering to contemplate) draw me in. So when I recently set off on one of my favorite kinds of tours through the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog looking at scenes captured by New York World-Telegram & Sun newspaper photographers, I found myself on quite an odyssey through public markets, mostly in the New York City area.
What struck me first was the variety of perspectives the photographers offered—some of which I wouldn’t be likely to gain on my own two feet and my daytime wanderings.
I love the patterns that emerge from this overhead perspective:
People on the street were clearly aware of the photographer who took this photo on a chilly night–perhaps an interesting distraction from the work of stocking and stacking market wares:
This one delighted me with its welter of carts, cars, and trucks, a blend of old and new:
Not all of the photos suggest thriving commerce, of course. This 1960 photograph showing the demolition of the Washington Market, serves as a reminder that the spread of supermarkets and urban renewal aspirations obliterated some historic markets. In her prolifically illustrated book Public Markets, Helen Tangires notes that the Washington Market, established in 1812 on the west side of lower Manhattan was, by 1858, the largest market in the United States. A century later, it was on the auction block. Eventually, an expression of commerce on an entirely different scale arose on the site: the World Trade Center.*
The New York World-Telegram & Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection ends its coverage in 1967, the year the newspaper closed. Lest my tour through its public markets end on a desolate note, however, I need only hop over to the Carol M. Highsmith Archive to affirm (in color!) that public markets are still a vibrant element of America’s cities:
* Helen Tangires, Public Markets (New York: W.W. Norton in association with Library of Congress, 2008), 249.
- View examples of images of markets from many collections in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.
- Pictures of food vendors offer some of the same fascinations as images of markets. A sampling of food vendor pictures highlights the variety of vendors through time, sometimes mobile, and sometimes well established at semi-permanent locations.
- The New York World-Telegram & Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection offers many insights on twentieth century events and trends. For a reminder about the particular advantages of the pictures taken by staff photographers, see our earlier post: “Taking to the Streets: New York World-Telegram & Sun Staff Photos.”
- Explore the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, which documents the United States, both urban and rural, starting in the 1980s and continuing to this day.
- Helen Tangires’ Public Markets is one of a series of visual sourcebooks in architecture, design, and engineering that the Library of Congress published in cooperation with W.W. Norton & Co. since 2003. Have a look at the titles in the series.