97-Year-Old Pioneer of Street Photography Captures New York Since the 1940’s

Vivian Cherry Street Photography

Harlem, 1940’s

After a knee injury slowed down her burgeoning dance career, Manhattanite Vivian Cherry turned to photography. It was an exciting time in New York City, as World War II caused a shift that moved the cultural heart of the world from Europe to New York. And Cherry, now 97 years old, was there to capture it all.

Cherry honed her photography skills as an assistant in a darkroom. “I was walking by a printers called Underwood and Underwood and I saw a sign saying, ‘Darkroom Help Wanted!–No Experience Necessary!'” she shared. “I remember it was the ‘no experience' bit that caught my attention—I didn’t know what the job would entail. At that time they were short on people to print photographs because so many men had been drafted, so I applied and got the job.”

Even after she returned to dance, photography remained a passion and she dove into documentary photography for its ability to paint a picture of reality. From the subway to the streets of Spanish Harlem, Cherry immortalized life in New York City and the everyday people who called the city their home. Many of her stunning black and white images from the 1940's and 1950's show children at play or spending time with friends.

“It was easier to take pictures of children then than it is now because they’d always be running around in the open spaces in the city, playing cops and robbers and shooting each other with their fingers,” she recalled.

Cherry continued photographing the city well into her 90's, with her earliest work a rare reminder of what New York once was. Her photography has been celebrated by many important institutions, with her work in the permanent collections of MoMA, the New York Public Library, and the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery. Currently, her solo exhibition Helluva Town is on view until June 16, 2018 at Daniel Cooney Fine Art in New York City.

Street Photography by Vivian Cherry

Third Avenue El, early 1950’s

Vivian Cherry Street Photography

Children in Hell’s Kitchen, 1940’s

Street Photography by Vivian Cherry

Third Avenue El, early 1950’s

Vivian Cherry Street Photography

Spanish Harlem, 1940’s

Vivian Cherry: Website 

My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Daniel Cooney Fine Art.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.

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