Monday, January 17, 2011

Mysterious City

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious."
~ Albert Einstein

Samuel Herman Gottscho (1875–1971) got his first camera when he was just out of his teens, but he didn't become a professional photographer until he was 50 years old. Fortunately, he lived to be 96, so he had plenty of time to create tens of thousands of images. Among them are some of my favorite photos of New York City.

Gottscho portrays Manhattan as I prefer to imagine it — mysterious, complex, majestic, fascinating, dangerous. A place where anything might happen. Or so it seems in my mind's eye. 

All of the photos that follow are part of the Samuel H. Gottscho collection of the Museum of the City of New York. The first, taken in daylight, is Gotham — a city where superheroes and rocketmen hover just out of camera range. In the remaining images, Gottscho has captured the mysterious soul of the city at night.

Aerial view of midtown Manhattan looking south 1931
Central Park 1930
East 59th Street 1933

Around City Hall Park 1930
Empire State 1930
Midtown 1930
Times Square 1930
Times Square at 46th Street 1932

"The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible."
~ Oscar Wilde


  1. I recall vividly falling head over heals in love w/ the city years ago. Like a smitten school boy. My first visceral experience with the "soul of a place". These photos radiate that elusive, seductive mystery... Venus de Milo or Manet's Olympia writ large and beckoning. Love 'em!

  2. Thanks, Walt. That's exactly how I feel about them.

  3. These are beautiful, as is Walt's description of his NYC love. I felt it too the only time I visited - the sense of soul, character, music, life. There are a few cities that affect me this way - San Francisco and New Orleans are the other two.

  4. Thanks, J. I lived in San Francisco for a while and it's a truly special place. Still haven't been to New Orleans, but it was my dad's favorite place on the planet and my husband grew up there. One of these days. I also like Boston and London and Chicago a lot. But the New York in Gottscho's photos will always be closest to my heart.

  5. These pictures are incredible.
    This is the New York I hope to visit one day soon.

  6. Come in autumn, Becky. That's when the city is at its most beautiful.