Born in New York City in 1895, Irving Browning began his professional life as a silent film actor and comedian, but he was most prolific as a photographer and, later, a cinematographer and filmmaker.
Browning opened his commercial photo studio in the early 1920s, enlisting his younger brother Sam as an employee. Clients of the Irving Browning Studio included architectural firms, magazines, and advertising agencies, and the work in the Browning Photograph Collection showcases a city with layers and contrasts, shot with skill and humanity. One of Browning’s most lauded technical achievements was capturing the entire height of the newly completed Chrysler Building in a single frame, while his documentation of unemployed men and shantytowns during the Great Depression is both straightforward and poignant.
Recently digitized in its entirety, this collection can now be evaluated as a whole, and one can see elements emerge repeatedly in the work that paint a picture of Browning’s particular point of view. From the way solitary figures are captured, silhouettes are isolated from the busyness of cityscapes, and light and shadows dominate a frame; to the surreal quality that emerges from surprising juxtapositions in some of the photomontages; these images are distinguished from just a client or project, and reflect the aesthetic sensibility of the photographer.
This post is by Eleanor Gillers, Head of Rights and Reproductions.