We are honored to present our first exhibition of Vivian Cherry’s vintage photographs of New York City, circa 1940’s to 1950’s titled Helluva Town. The show features a selection of about 50 photographs from Cherry’s lifetime of work and will focus specifically on her portrayal of the Lower East Side, the Third Avenue El (and it’s deconstruction) and her surprising images of New York’s children.
Vivian Cherry, who is now 97-years-old began her career as a photographer during World War II when she was working as a dancer in Broadway shows and nightclubs. While job-hunting she saw a handwritten sign that exclaimed “Darkroom Help Wanted! – No Experience Necessary!” She got the job and started printing news images for Underwood and Underwood, a prominent photo service. As her darkroom skills developed her curiosity about making photographs did too.
Soon, she joined the Photo League, a group of young New York City professional photographers dedicated to teaching and supporting the art of photography. There she studied under the guidance of Sid Grossman and began selling her photo essays to popular magazines while she continued dancing in Broadway musicals and supper clubs. This exhibition shares Cherry’s work from that time.
The Third Avenue El photographs document commuters and the views from the train that once connected Harlem to Chinatown and everywhere in between. Cherry also documented the destruction of the famed El, which brought onlookers to the street to watch the massive structure systematically crumble. The Lower East Side photographs relish in the diversity of post war New York with deep roots in the old countries of Italy, Poland, Ireland and Russia. Cherry’s unforgettable photographs of children living in New York expose the violence that comes with being a child. The games of war and guns and even lynching are truly remarkable.
Vivian Cherry’s photographs are in the permanent collections of the Brooklyn Museum, The Museum of Modern Art, The International Center of Photography, the New York Public Library and the National Portrait Gallery among others. Her work has appeared in Life, Sports illustrated, Popular Photography, Ebony, The Week, Pageant and Collier’s. Cherry had a retrospective exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in 2000 curated by Barbara Millstein titled Vivian Cherry: Working Street Photographer, 1940’s-60’s.