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.