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Images of Industry

Welcome to the Alexander Artway Archive blog! For our inaugural post I chose to ruminate on Artway's imagery of construction and industrial storehouses.

In 1934 Artway earned a degree in architecture from New York University. His love of the subject is clear from the hundreds of architectural studies in the archive. Though many of these photographs are quite beautiful, one cannot help but to think Artway was more interested in the design of the building pictured rather than the photograph he created.

This is a selection of small prints (1’’x1.5’’) of entrance ways, made around 1934-35.

When initially combing through the archive, I found it strange that Artway rarely photographed street scenes; many other photographers in New York in the 1930s strove to document social conditions which were so dire in the heart of the Great Depression. Artway focused his lens on nature, his friends, and the buildings he loved.

Additionally, the archive contains numerous prints and negatives of construction, men at work, and industrial warehouses. At first I thought these images were a natural extension of Artway’s interest in architecture. He was a meticulous, if not obsessive, documenter of life and it seemed natural that he would also document the process of buildings being made.

Today I’ve begun to think that perhaps Alexander Artway was not avoiding images of the Depression. Perhaps his photographs of work scenes were a response to it, showing that work was still being done, progress was being made. Instead of picturing the poverty he no doubt encountered during the war in Russia, he photographed optimistic scenes of warehouses full of materials, steamships transporting cargo, and men constructing bridges and tunnels.

A page from one of Artway’s albums depicting Prospect Park Storehouse

Not only do these photographs study the form and patterns of industrial objects, they are a commentary on the successes of American life in spite of the Great Depression. The 1940 census lists Alexander Artway as employed by the WPA (Works Progress Administration). It is possible Artway took pride in this government endeavor and the opportunities it afforded him. Perhaps Artway photographed the fruit of the WPA’s labors as evidence of the bright future ahead of New York.

--Alice Cutler, Archive Manager

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