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Only in New York: Photographs from Look Magazine
     

Only in New York: Photographs from Look Magazine

by Thomas Mellins
 
In the aftermath of World War II, New York emerged as a world-class city and the de facto national financial capital, becoming a magnet for moguls and strivers. At the same time the city remained a collection of small towns made up of people going about their daily rounds. No other publication captured this twin identity as successfully as Look magazine.

In

Overview

In the aftermath of World War II, New York emerged as a world-class city and the de facto national financial capital, becoming a magnet for moguls and strivers. At the same time the city remained a collection of small towns made up of people going about their daily rounds. No other publication captured this twin identity as successfully as Look magazine.

In the pre-television era, the editors of Look recognized the great demand for photographs of all kinds—politicians, titans of industry, and unsung heroes, glamorous events and intimate moments, society matrons and showgirls, violent crime and courtroom drama—that provided entertainment and diversion to voyeuristic subscribers to the magazine. Reaching a peak circulation of nearly 8 million in the late 1960s, Look was a national publication with a focus on the fascination and allure of New York.

The magazine's New York images—more than 200,000 in all—were donated to the Museum of the City of New York. Only in New York draws from that astonishing archive to present the tapestry that was New York in the 1940s and 1950s.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"smartly packaged book . . . heartening. It reminds you that drastic changes in visual culture can spawn successful magazines — and hints that strong images, in some form or another, will always have a place."
—The New York Times

"Only in New York . . . shines a light on Look’s incredible archives and speaks to this also-ran’s strong suit: artful and deeply personal coverage of New York City."
—The Daily Beast

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781580932486
Publisher:
The Monacelli Press
Publication date:
10/27/2009
Pages:
208
Product dimensions:
9.00(w) x 11.50(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

From: Introduction

Look magazine had a long love affair with New York City, bringing its people, places, events, and ever-changing social scene to the attention of the magazine’s national audience. Stressing human warmth over journalistic objectivity, the magazine’s New York–based editors, writers, and photographers scoured their city for stories on a kaleidoscopic range of subjects. On Look’s pages, readers learned about Broadway personalities, kids in slums, tastemakers and eccentric artists, sports heroes, developers of gleaming new skyscrapers, and Brooklyn’s so-called “thrill killers.” Throughout this diversity, however, one message remained clear. New York was both a big city, unlike any other in the nation, and a small town, where everyday life progressed much as it did elsewhere. “Behind the facade of this pushing, friendly, cruel, cultured, rich and ragged city,” wrote Patricia Coffin (d. 1974), one of the magazine’s longtime editors, “there is another town, a ‘small’ town . . . Mine includes a grocer who delivers my order to the corner liquor store if I’m home late from the office. There is also the Italian shoemaker who chalks ‘5-A’ on the soles of my shoes without asking where I live. ‘Tomarra,’ he says.”

As this observation underscores, Look’s coverage of New York had a distinctive tone, rejecting an icy, at-arms-length view in favor of one that was close-up and finely grained. The magazine’s portrayal of New York was candid, humorous, and always emphasized the story of individuals over societal documentation. Ira Mothner (b. 1932), who served as a Look editor beginning in 1957, has noted that the magazine “was always more about fun” than its celebrated rival Life. Mothner has also contended that while Life’s staff was more highly paid, the work atmosphere at Look was more spirited and free-wheeling.

Look was founded, published, and edited by Gardner Cowles (1903–1985, known as Mike Cowles). Its first issue was published in early 1937, a few months after the launch of Henry R. Luce’s Life. Both Look and Life brought to America the style of lively photojournalism already apparent in such European magazines as the German Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung and the French VU. Look’s mission was to meet “the tremendous unfilled demand for extraordinary news and feature pictures” and sought to appeal to a broad readership. As the editors promised potential advertisers, Look would have “reader interest for yourself, for your wife, for your private secretary, for your office boy.” Though the postwar growth of the magazine was dramatic—9,270,830 copies of its March 7, 1967, issue were sold—Look’s demise resulted from many forces, including the shift of advertising dollars to television and the rising costs of paper, printing, and mailing. After publishing 903 issues with 180,000 pictures, Look printed its last issue on October 19, 1971.

In the postwar period, numerous stories about New York conveyed the magazine’s defining character. Look celebrated New York as a place in which to realize the American ideal of self-invention, publishing articles on fashion models, boxers, artists, and entertainers, both striving and established. In this respect, Look’s editors concurred with E. B. White who, in his 1947 essay, “Here is New York,” stated that the city “can destroy an individual, or it can fulfill him, depending a good deal on luck. No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.” Ambushing expectations that the big city was a place of anonymous crowds, Look’s photographic essay “Life and Love on the New York Subway” (see pages 118–127) depicted the nation’s largest mass-transit system as a kind of subterranean town square. An opening panoramic view of the Grand Central Terminal subway station at the peak of the evening rush hour was followed by numerous, smaller portraits of “subway characters,” from college students to nighttime revelers and Talmudic scholars, whose “actions and dreams pull them out of the crowd.”

A darker and more disturbing side of New York was revealed in a 1946 four-page photo spread by Weegee, identified by Look as “one of the world’s most publicized photographers.” Titled “New York Off Guard,” this group of images was culled from the photographer’s latest book, Weegee’s People. Like the magazine itself, “Weegee’s themes are New York and its people—the poor and the rich, the clean and the dirty, the respectable ones and the outcasts.” Amid portraits of a colorful cast of characters, one image stood out: an elegant blond and her tuxedo-clad friends sit adjacent to a disheveled woman. The caption read, “A derelict rubs elbows with an expensive beauty out slumming,” and while only the beauty is enjoying herself, the caption sarcastically concluded, “both smile.”

. . .

Perhaps the most surprising name on the magazine’s masthead was Stanley Kubrick (1928–1999), who from 1945 to 1950, before launching his career as the director of such films as Doctor Strangelove and 2001: A Space Odyssey, worked as a Look photographer. Kubrick grew up in the Bronx and at the age of sixteen sold his first photograph to Look—an image of a newsstand announcing the death of President Roosevelt. Over the next five years, Kubrick completed numerous assignments, but of special interest were his photographs of showgirls and boxers. Kubrick elevated individuals to the status of archetypes, telling mythic stories about contemporary urban society and the roles men and women played in it.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"smartly packaged book . . . heartening. It reminds you that drastic changes in visual culture can spawn successful magazines — and hints that strong images, in some form or another, will always have a place."
—The New York Times

"Only in New York . . . shines a light on Look’s incredible archives and speaks to this also-ran’s strong suit: artful and deeply personal coverage of New York City."
—The Daily Beast

Meet the Author

Donald Albrecht is the curator of architecture and design at the Museum of the City of New York. His exhibitions there include The Mythic City: Photographs of New York by Samuel H. Gottscho 1925–1940 and Paris/New York: Design/Fashion/Culture/1925–1940.

Thomas Mellins is an architectural historian and independent curator specializing in New York. He is the co-author, with Robert A. M. Stern, of New York 1880, New York 1930, and New York 1960. He has organized exhibitions at the Museum of the City of New York, the National Building Museum, and Yale University.

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