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From Showgirl to Street Photographer: Vivian Cherry’s Vintage New York

An exhibition featuring Vivian Cherry’s photographs of New York City, circa 1940s – 1950s, is currently on view at Daniel Cooney Fine Art. The show, called Helluva Town, consists of about 50 images that focus on Cherry’s portrayal of the Lower East Side, The Third Avenue El and its destruction, and images of New York City children.

During WWII, when Cherry was working as a dancer in Broadway shows and nightclubs, she spotted a handwritten sign that read “Dark Room Help Wanted – No Experience Necessary!” She landed the job and started printing news images for Underwood and Underwood, a prominent photo service. “As her darkroom skills developed, her curiosity about making photos did too,” writes the gallery in the press release.

Searching for more skill as a photographer, Cherry joined the Photo League, a group of young New York City professionals dedicated to teaching and supporting the art of photography. There, she was mentored by Sid Grossman and began selling her photos to popular magazines like Life, Sports Illustrated, Ebony and Popular Photography, among others.

Helluva Town shares the work Cherry made while studying with Grossman.

The Third Avenue El pictures document commuters and views from the train that once connected Harlem to Chinatown. The images Cherry made on the Lower East Side give prominence to the diversity of the neighborhood, which at the time had deep roots in Italy, Poland, Ireland and Russia. Her photographs of children expose the startling violence that can come with being a child. “The games of war and guns and even lynching are truly remarkable,” states the gallery.

Cherry is now 98 years old. Her work resides in the permanent collections of several outstanding institutions. In 2000, she had a retrospective exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, curated by Barbara Millstein.

Helluva Town
Vivian Cherry
Daniel Cooney Fine Art
through June 23, 2018

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