Ever wonder what it was like to stroll through Central Park back when Sheep’s Meadow still had sheep grazing on it? Or to go for a dip at the beach when a woman showing a bit of ankle was cause to raise some eyebrows? The Arsenal Gallery in Central Park is hosting an exhibit of 68 photographs celebrating the New York City parks system between 1890 and 1940. The photos, which are part of the Museum of the City of New York’s archive, are a treasure trove of candid shots from a bygone era; the nascent years of the system of New York Parks and Recreation that we know and love today.
While it’s fascinating to see how much has changed; clothing, automobiles, demographics and ethnicities, it’s sometimes even more interesting to find the things that remain the same. Like going through old family photographs and seeing a grandparent when they were in their teens or twenties, the old buildings and other landmarks that we pass with insouciant familiarity today look more vibrant, and full of promise in these monochrome captures. They stare defiantly back, harbingers of change, the sole familiar feature in an alien landscape about to be transformed by the ineluctable march of progress.
The photographs of human subjects are no less impressive and thought provoking. The clothing may change, the people may change, the landscape itself may change, but the pursuits of the human heart are eternal and repeating from one generation to the next. The turn of a shoulder, a woman’s smile, the unbridled exuberance of children at play; these things will never change.
The exhibit is on display until August 30, 2012.
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