The Quiet Labors of “Daylight Bob”: The Robert L. Bracklow Photograph Collection

This post is by Lenge Hong, Cataloging and Metadata Technician for the Robertson Digital Project. Initially posted to the New-York Historical Society's blog, it is republished here with permission.

The New-York Historical Society and the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO) are excited to announce that the photographs of Robert L. Bracklow (1849-1919) have been digitized and are available to view at METRO’s Digital Culture of Metropolitan New York site.

A contemporary of Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen, Robert Louis Bracklow documented the changing landscape of New York in crisp focus and finely balanced compositions. Bracklow made his living as a stationer, eventually operating his own shop selling legal stationery in Lower Manhattan. He also sold mounted prints of the photographs he took during his off hours, inscribed “Glimpses through the Camera. Robert L. Bracklow, New York.”

Bracklow emigrated to the United States from Germany with his parents at the age of four. He discovered photography in his early thirties and joined the New York Society of Amateur Photographers. Bracklow was a highly active member, serving as director, librarian, corresponding secretary, and recording secretary.

 

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Bracklow’s stationery store moved several times. This location is 141 Fulton Street. Street. PR008.1747, Robert L. Bracklow Photograph Collection. New-York Historical Society.

 

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Bracklow and fellow members of the Camera Club on a photographic “field excursion,” May 23, 1909. Bracklow was nicknamed “Daylight Bob” for his fear of the dark (including the darkroom). PR008.22, Robert L. Bracklow Photograph Collection. New-York Historical Society.

 

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The darkroom at the New York Camera Club. The darkroom at the New York Camera Club. PR008.2007, Robert L. Bracklow Photograph Collection. New-York Historical Society.

 

In 1896 the Society of Amateur Photographers merged with the New York Camera Club to form the Camera Club of New York. Alfred Stieglitz was the first vice-president of the new organization, and by most accounts the de facto president as well. While Stieglitz focused his considerable energy and resources on promoting photography as a fine art, Bracklow continued to produce his serene, photo-realistic images of a city in flux, as well as studies of the small New England towns he visited each summer. He remained active in the new Camera Club, both under Stieglitz and after the latter left to form his own society, the Photo-Secession.

Bracklow never embraced Stieglitz’s more abstract artistic vision, nor did he use his photography to expose social ills or make a clear political statement, like his contemporary Jacob Riis.

Bracklow’s New York exists mostly in an atmosphere of middle-class propriety and early-morning quiet. (This may be partially attributable to the fact that, as an independent small business owner, his time was not entirely his own and he could only afford to indulge his passion on weekends, during vacations, and before regular business hours.) Impoverished shanties in the still-rural north of Manhattan were framed with the same calm remove as newly-built Midtown skyscrapers. While he seldom focused on people, though, his photographs are not without warmth and genuine sensitivity.

 

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Untitled [Dewey Arch, Fifth Avenue, New York City], 1900. New-York Historical Society, PR008.329.

 

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Untitled [Shanties on W. 62nd Street near Broadway, New York City], 1896. New-York Historical Society, PR008.775.

 

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Untitled [Broadway to Trinity Church, New York City], November 16, 1902. New-York Historical Society, PR008.1275.

 

Thanks to a generous 2014 METRO Digitization Grant, 1,500 glass plate negatives from the collection were digitized by Backstage Library Works, a firm located in Bethlehem, Pa. The remaining 587 glass plate negatives in the collection were scanned by N-YHS staff working on a large-scale project to digitize numerous collections of photographs and manuscripts with funding from a private foundation. The entire collection was cataloged by the project’s Cataloging and Metadata Technician, Lenge Hong, and was uploaded to METRO’s Digital Culture of Metropolitan New York site by METRO staff.

 

Presented with thanks to Lenge Hong and the staff at the New-York Historical Society. Be sure to check out their post -- it has lots more pictures!