Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ethnic America's Access to Coffee


Berenice Abbott (Springfield, OH, 1898-1991) Lebanon Restaurant, 88 Washington Street, Lower East Side, NYC, 1936

During the Depression of the 1930s, photographer Berenice Abbot was given the opportunity to document New York City as a WPA project called "Changing New York." Photo-documentation was followed by an exhibit under the same name at The Museum of the City of New York, showing 307 images taken across the length and breadth of the City from 1935-1938. A book followed the exhibit written by Bonnie Yochelson.
Abbott's black & white gelatin silver print images include many food-oriented scenes, such as a horse-drawn milk wagon, oyster houses, the automat, a bread store. a hotel and an A&P store. At left is a good example of how food images in the arts document part of America's history. Arabic lettering on the window announces a coffee house where men may gather, converse in their native language, read newspapers and socialize over numerous cups of coffee. In this case,Turkish coffee. Similar establishments were found in Detroit, San Francisco or wherever Middle Eastern or Mediterranean coffee-drinking immigrants have settled.

Andreas Feinenger (Paris, 1906-1999) Unloading Coffee at Brooklyn Dock, 1946/1948.

Unlike so many other artists who have pictorialized America's economic and political struggles over coffee, Feinenger's photo is artistically neutral: a strong and tightly-composed view of New York's skyline, as if over the laborers' shoulders and framed by the shipping portal at the dock.

Feinenger studied for an architectural degree in Germany and simply used his camera "for reference," like taking notes. Once in America, he fell in love with New York City, its skyline, bridges and streets. After WW II, he traveled Route 66 and photographed scenes of the western U.S.

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