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The Quiet, Colorful Moments of Irving Herzberg

Jul 14, 2014 4:33 AM | 2 comments

Irving Herzberg (1915-1992) is perhaps best known for capturing personal, candid moments. The Brooklyn Collection houses Herzberg's life's work; over 2,300 images of day-to-day Brooklynites: a woman with her tired baby, a man looking at totem poles, and children stuffing their faces with cotton candy. The Brooklyn Collection also has some amazingly terrifying photos of the plane crash that shook up Park Slope in the winter of 1960 and a wealth of photos that he took of Brooklyn's traditionally closed Hasidic community. Herzberg spent 10 years, Sunday after Sunday, sitting and talking with leaders in the community developing a relationship that eventually granted him access that few photographers have been given. You can view more photos from Hasidic Brooklyn here and here.

His images are chiefly black and white, sometimes quiet, and often personal, yet much of his work has a humor and lightness as well. It would be hard to take photos of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club without having a sense of humor.

Yet, to me, Herzberg's most personal work was never framed for exhibitions at galleries or museums. His most personal work sits in a tiny archival box in the 'map room' next to my desk. It is one thing to take the photo, another to be the subject. Along with the photos from the Hasidic community, the plethora of shots from Coney Island and the subways, the Brooklyn Collection has over 200 small color Kodachrome slides taken in the early 1950s. They are personal photos from vacations and holidays; his own quiet moments.

It was so enjoyable going through each of the small slides, each one taking me back to a time when each photo was precious. You couldn't delete the ones that were blurry or crop out the man unabashedly photo-bombing your beach day family portrait. You had 36 photos and you had to make them count. What's more, you couldn't document every moment of Thanksgiving or Instagram the turkey on your plate. You took one. That one photo encompassed all the memories from that one day.

Below are a smattering of Herzberg's images from that tiny box, all of them taken with a photographer's keen eye for composition and color.

For some of the photos, the aim of the photo was clearly art.

A longtime Coney Island resident, others showcase the diversity of Herzberg's favorite subject: Brooklyn.

- These ladies are lunching, for real -

- These kids are lunching, for real, too -

Many of the images are from a trip to the beach. With few exceptions, none of the slides have any acknowledgement as to their subject or the date. A few have 1954 written on them, others 1952. This beach adventure happened sometime in the early 1950s. The coloring on the Kodachrome slides is fantastic, something that many an iPhone app has attempted to emulate. There is nothing quite like the real thing, though.

- Herzberg's wife and son - 

The box contains so many memories. All of them are lost on me, as I wasn't there, but by using my imagination and my own sense of nostalgia, I can almost picture the corresponding memories. Below are photos of Herzberg's family: his son, daughter, and wife.

- This is one of my favorites -

We all have a family photo where no one is doing what they were supposed to do. Dad is looking down, mom has her eyes closed, Grandpa fell asleep, etc. The Herzberg family has one too. These photos are always the most honest, as how often are families truly quiet and still, smiling and facing forward? The posed photos, of course, get the frame; the others get deleted or stuck in a box under the bed. We're pulled to remember the good things, the smiling, happy, posed things.

But who is to say that a photo of sleeping grandpa isn't a good thing? That distracted dad isn't something to be remembered? The photo below is another one of my personal favorites.

Finally, these gems. Herzberg took two photos in this same spot, one with his color Kodachrome film, and another with his standard camera. Yes, he is in a lawn ornament display.

 - A selfie, pre-selfie -

As always, Mr. Herzberg, thanks for sharing.


7/15/2014 5:31:24 PM #


Joy Holland

8/11/2014 2:05:19 PM #

Is there a show up in the library of these
great works? I'd wish to see them face to face.