A Market Perspective: Pictures of Public Markets

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:

Overhead view of a pushcart produce stand on Belmont Avenue, Brooklyn, New York. Photo by Alan Fisher, 1962. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.12721

Overhead view of a pushcart produce stand on Belmont Avenue, Brooklyn, New York. Photo by Alan Fisher, 1962. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.12721

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:

Night view of produce market on Washington Street, New York City. Photo by Walter Albertin, 1952. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.12725

Night view of produce market on Washington Street, New York City. Photo by Walter Albertin, 1952. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.12725

This one delighted me with its welter of carts, cars, and trucks, a blend of old and new:

Vast crowd of trucks and horse-drawn carts at the Wallabout Market, Brooklyn, N.Y. Photo by Al Aumuller, 1940 Sept. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.12738

Vast crowd of trucks and horse-drawn carts at the Wallabout Market, Brooklyn, N.Y. Photo by Al Aumuller, 1940 Sept. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.12738

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.*

Food for the wreckers. Photo by Walter Albertin, 1960. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.12747

Food for the wreckers. Photo by Walter Albertin, 1960. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.12747

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:

Eastern Market is a public market in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 2010. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/highsm.10241

Eastern Market is a public market in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 2010. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/highsm.10241

* Helen Tangires, Public Markets (New York: W.W. Norton in association with Library of Congress, 2008), 249.

Learn More:

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.