Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Mapping Street Photography

In 1976, over the course of an entire year, Roy Colmer photographed over 3,000 doors in Manhattan, producing a fascinating archive of a moment in New York City history.

The collection is owned by the NYPL, where Photography Specialist David Lowe has recently mapped them out, placing them "at regular intervals along the streets they depict."

Lowe writes, "The points are not intended to specify the location of particular doorways. And, as it is not clear which direction Colmer walked, they may appear in reverse order."

You can click any point on the map for a thumbnail of Colmer's photo, and a link to Google Street View to see what's there now. Unfortunately, Mr. Colmer passed away earlier this year and was not able to see the map in action.

Lowe has also mapped the photographs of Dinanda Nooney, a vast documentation of Brooklyn exteriors and interiors from 1978 - 1979.

Dinanda Nooney, Gargiulo's Restaurant

Of the mapping projects, Lowe told me, "I've had the pleasure of working with and cataloging the hundreds of thousands of photographs in our collections for over a decade now. For many of our collections, and Roy Colmer's 'Doors, NYC' is a perfect example, it seems almost inevitable to search them on a map.

In general, searching for images of specific locations in traditional, text-based catalogs is very problematic: searching for 'Fifth Ave.,' 'Fifth Avenue,' '5th Ave.,' and '5th Avenue' will all give different results. Place names change, become obsolete (Prussia), or may be spelled in a local spellings (Venezia).

While a map presents its own challenges (streets are built over or are renumbered), it circumvents a lot of these more basic limitations. But a map can give a bird's-eye-view of collections in a way no list of titles could do. Given the breadth of our collections, I hope maps will increasingly connect researchers (or the merely curious) to whatever it is they're looking for."

Dinanda Nooney, At home with the Basquiat family (yes, those Basquiats)

Selections of both Dinanda Nooney's and Roy Colmer's work are included in the NYPL's current exhibition Public Eye: 175 Years of Sharing Photography."

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