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Ready for Research: the Anthony Angel Collection

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The following is a guest post by Eric Peich, Archivist, Prints & Photographs Division.

The Angel of New York

Candid views of people and formal views of buildings abound in the Anthony Angel Collection, which offers a diverse and lively representation of one of the most well-known cities in America in approximately 60,000 photographs taken between 1949 and 1967. You can easily become acquainted with the collection through the images that the photographer himself chose to print—almost 1,400 rights-free pictures. This collection of largely unseen images of New York City from a relatively unknown photographer shows a city full of life and endless in its expanse. Researchers or fans of New York City will find images that resonate. Whether images of historic buildings and iconic skylines or of people living their daily lives, the Anthony Angel Collection will give you a chance to see it all through a new lens.

Three women sitting on subway
Women riding on the subway. Photo by Angelo Rizzuto, 1958.

By presenting a survey of the changing landscape as well as the inhabitants of New York City, Angelo A. Rizzuto (1906-1967) captured both the big and small features of urban life. He also made it clear that he preferred the name Anthony Angel. (In this post, we’ll generally refer to him as “Angel,” although books about him and photographs by him are usually cataloged under “Rizzuto.”) Born in Deadwood, South Dakota, Angel grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, graduated from Wittenberg College in Ohio in 1931, and spent his later life in New York City. Angel devoted much of his time to preparing a photographic survey of Manhattan and planned a publication titled “Little Old New York” to document the city’s appearance 300 years after it had become an English colony.

The themes of his survey were broad and expansive. Angel documented the buildings and skyscrapers that make up New York City’s iconic skylines and cityscapes along with the city’s inhabitants in a variety of situations. His photographs show the everyday life and chance encounters universal to urban dwellers. Overall the collection provides images that range from showing some of the most historic buildings and landmarks built across the city, such as Grand Central Terminal and Washington Square, to a couple sitting in Central Park in conversation, and those merely passing by on city streets. You can see New York City from many varied angles that are at times either intimate or distant.

Light streaming down on the figure of a women, interior of station
Grand Central sculpt of light. Photo by Angelo Rizzuto, 1953.

Library Technician Michelle An, who worked on the project to organize and describe this special collection, noted that, “Many of Angel’s photographs feature the urban landscape of New York City, focusing on public spaces and the built environment. He took bird’s-eye photographs of Park Avenue and Broadway as well as street-level photographs of Coenties Slip in the Financial District. His photographs also document ephemeral aspects of the City with images of storefronts, marquees, and neon advertisements representing a moment in time. He captured candid shots of people going about their daily lives and portraits of pedestrians, both young and old.”

Men with camera in foreground, woman with umbrella in front of them on wet street
Woman being photographed in the rain on a street corner. Photo by Angelo Rizzuto, 1954.

In another testament to the interesting aspects of Angel’s photographs, Library Technician Libby McKiernan noted that pets and wildlife often made their way into the images. McKiernan wrote, “There are so many good shots of the city… showing all walks of life in New York City at that time, that it is hard to pick out a favorite theme or image. So, I’ll go the lighthearted route and say it always made me smile to come across images of a furry friend or two.”

Cat sitting on top of boxes on street
Cat sitting on top of boxes. Photo by Angelo Rizzuto, 1955.

Connecting the Pieces

The photographer carefully organized his images by year, month, and date. The collection contains four kinds of material: (1) Contact sheets, 1952-1964, 10×10 inches, filed in the Prints & Photographs Reading Room—they represent all of the images in the negatives (2) Prints for an unpublished book called “Little Old New York,” 8×10 inches—all digitized and available online (3) Booklets and typescripts, filed in a supplemental archive (4) Film negatives, 1949-1967, 35mm and 120-size in 2.25 x 3.25 inches—preserved in cold storage

Processing this collection presented several challenges, mostly due to the lack of descriptions provided by Angel. While Angel had a valuable original organization method to build on with the contact sheet portion of his collection, there were a few hurdles to overcome in terms of describing material for researchers and having a system in place to retrieve them. The prints were the first major hurdle. With little to no provided descriptive information, staff relied on supplemental material including loose caption cards and a small caption book in the collection to devise titles and help date material when possible. Often the only information was an abbreviated date in the corner of the print. We leveraged our creative searching techniques to identify locations and buildings using online resources, as well as using the clearly dated contact sheets to identify subjects and buildings depicted. McKiernan found a silver lining, describing the situation and solution succinctly as “While definitely a challenge, I must say it was really fun to play detective!” Concentrating on street signs, makes and models of cars, and dress styles, staff were able to connect the pieces and date over 1,300 prints in the collection.

Verso of an Angel photographic print showing numbering in corner
Verso of an Angel photographic print. Photographed by Eric Peich, 2020.

The contact sheets and negatives were our next challenge. While the dates were clearly displayed on the contact sheets and the original envelopes housing the negatives, the frame numbers were regrettably not visible on the contact sheets due to the way that Angel developed them. Frame numbers are typically the lynchpin to identifying individual images and connecting the negatives to the printed material. Angel’s use of bulk roll film (45 numbered frames vs. 36 numbered frames in a standard film roll) and apparent use of multiple cameras during a given venture across the city is reflected in an almost cobbled together organizational approach to his contact sheets. Negative strips were cut and the frames were arranged in a variety of ways on the contact sheets, often with images upside down, rows of negatives with no numerical order, or repeating frame numbers. Often we found that the negative frames on the contact sheets were almost haphazardly compiled with negative frames going in a sequence such as 8, 7, 6, 5, 41, 40.

Recognizing this as a challenge for future researchers wanting to cite or request a high resolution scan of an image they particularly liked, we devised and implemented a unique strip and negative guide for each of the contact sheets that allowed us to accurately match the negatives in the collection to their position on the contact sheets.

Contact sheet showing image frames and numbered guide on the left.
Front of Angel contact sheet with negative guide insert. Photographed by P&P staff, 2021.

The guide we developed allowed staff to simultaneously capture exactly how the negatives were laid out and displayed on the contact sheets and to assign a unique number to each negative strip to ensure accurate retrieval of the specific strips from which researchers need to obtain images. Being able to make those connections between the negatives and contact sheets was crucial for the project’s success and made browsing the collection material in our reading room as easy as possible for researchers.

Verso of Angel contact sheet with negative guide. Photographed by P&P staff, 2021.
Verso of Angel contact sheet with negative guide. Photographed by P&P staff, 2021.

Unique Finds and Tips for Using the Collection

A unique piece of this collection that researchers may notice when browsing the material is the fact that Angel would often turn the camera onto himself. While more common on the contact sheets than the prints in the collection, Angel made the self-portraits in his apartment or captured his reflection in store windows while out in the city. We theorize he took them at the end of rolls of film to make use of every usable frame, however he had a tendency to pose on occasion and made faces at the camera showing a wide range of emotions and expressions.

Anthony Angel, bust portrait, facing front.
Anthony Angel, bust portrait, facing front. Photograph by Angelo Rizzuto, between 1949 and 1967.

Another unique aspect of this collection is a small group of images related to how to build your own copy stand, featuring the photographer Angel himself. A copy stand is a device used to photograph objects, such as documents, drawings or photographs, in the same way we would use a modern scanner today. Angel showed the steps for building and operating a copy stand by placing an object on a flat mounting surface and lighting the object with two clip lamps providing even lighting across the object. A sheet hung around the copy stand as a neutral backdrop allows the photographing of an object in a controlled and well-lit environment with little investment.

Man aiming camera at object presented vertically
Copy stand – Angel. Photograph by Angelo Rizzuto, between 1949 and 1967.

Scans of Anthony Angel Collection black-and-white prints that are available online provide a look at some material Angel himself selected to print from his negatives. Those who can visit the Prints & Photographs Reading Room when it is open have a further treat in store in browsing the contact sheets filed in the reading room. The contact sheets provide the best overview of the material as McKiernan also noted, “Angel had a tendency to revisit the same locations again and again over the years. If you find a print with a location or building that you are particularly interested in, but the print isn’t quite what you are looking for, it is definitely worth turning to the contact sheets because there is a good chance that Angel visited that site several times.”

An additional tip for finding related images in the collection is to browse neighboring contact sheets as Angel really liked to group images from the same day next to each other and you can often find the same people in the images. The chronological arrangement also really helps in that if you know that a certain building was demolished or built in a certain year or month, you can easily navigate right to the exact moment in time.

We hope you enjoy the collection and the numerous views of New York City and its inhabitants this collection provides.

Learn More:

  • View digitized photos by Anthony Angel.
  • Pursue published works that feature and discuss photos by Anthony Angel:
    • Rizzuto, Angelo. Angelo Rizzuto’s New York: “In Little Old New York, by Anthony Angel.” Washington, Library of Congress, 1972.
    • Maddox, Jerald. “Photography as Folk Art.” In One Hundred Years of Photographic History: Essays in Honor of Beaumont Newhall, ed. By Van Deren Coke. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1975, p. 104-108.
    • Lesy, Michael. “The Angel.” In  Visible light: Four Creative Biographies. New York: Times Books, c1985, p. 3-36.
    • Lesy, Michael. Angel’s World: The New York Photographs of Angelo Rizzuto. New York: 2006.
  • Is your appetite whetted to appreciate the vision photographers bring to their work? Revisit the blog post, “Great Photographs: New Issue of LCM,” which highlights photographs and photographers featured in the Library of Congress Magazine.

Comments (3)

  1. These are beautiful; what a treasure.

  2. Very nice write-up. Congratulations!

  3. An excellent description of all aspects of an archival collection and how it has been brought to life for researchers.

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