This post was written by Twila Rios, Intern in the department of Prints, Photographs and Architectural Collections.
It’s tempting sometimes to define history as only items no longer in living memory. Items over 100 years old usually fit into this definition. But as an archival student, I’ve often heard the opposite: “History happens under our feet,” or “history is happening now.” If we don’t collect more recent items we may not have them when they reach that 100 year mark. That’s why the Bernard Gotfryd Photograph Collection is such a wonderful acquisition. It provides a slice of late 20th century history, interesting now and in the future.
With the bulk of the images from the 1960’s and 1970’s, the collection boasts both iconic individuals and those who even now are fading into obscurity. Largely New York-centric, the collection includes politicians, activists, actors, musicians, writers, artists, and theologians. Most would recognize the above image of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show; but what about an image of painter Georgia O’Keefe, or politicians Dag Hammorskjold or Adlai Stevenson? For many the names might be familiar but perhaps not the faces.
Gotfryd’s photographic career began early and under dangerous circumstances. When school was closed to Jewish students in Poland during World War II, teenaged Bernard Gotfryd got a job as a photography apprentice. Nazi officers often used the shop to develop their film; which sometimes documented atrocities. Young Gotfryd would make additional copies and smuggle them to the Polish underground. Eventually he was caught and sent to the concentration camps. A separate series in this collection contains his book of Holocaust survivor stories Anton the Dove Fancier and other Tales from the Holocaust.
After the war Gotfryd immigrated to the U.S. to work and study photography. In the 1950’s he settled in Queens, New York where he married and raised two children. He joined the staff of NewsWeek in 1957. It was over thirty years of photography for Newsweek that forms the basis of this rich collection of portraits of prominent people and of events between 1960 and 1988.
Mississippi John Hurt was a share cropper in Mississippi who recorded some blues in 1928. But when that wasn’t successful he went back to share cropping for 35 years. In 1963 he was rediscovered at a time when folk music was on the rise. He went on a coffee house and concert round which brought him to New York City and the camera of Bernard Gotfryd.
In 1973 Alice Cooper came to New York City at the invitation of Salvador Dali. The artist wanted to make a piece centered around Alice Cooper. The finished piece was a hologram entitled “First Cylindric Chromo-Hologram Portrait of Alice Cooper’s Brain.” Who knew that the two ever hung out together? But Bernard Gotfryd was there on assignment to capture some photos.
There’s a note from Gotfryd on the back of this Max Ascoli photograph. Ascoli was a professor at New York’s New School and editor of the magazine The Reporter. Gotfryd claims Ascoli said “I like the picture a lot because one can see in my glasses what was on my mind.”
These two photos of Mother Teresa were taken in New York City in 1971, the same year she established the first Missionaries of Charity home in the United States, in the south Bronx.
These are just a sampling of the many portraits in the collection. The Bernard Gotfryd Photograph Collection is available for viewing during regular library hours by advance appointment (to schedule an appointment, email firstname.lastname@example.org). All subject’s names or subject topics are listed in the Bernard Gotfryd Photograph Collection finding aid.