The couple at the center of this photograph has donned swimming costumes appropriate for a day on the beach. Until the early twentieth century, women wore bathing dresses or long tunics over bloomers, all of which were made from heavy, often wool, fabric to prevent the clothing from rising up in the water. Men also had to observe the rules of propriety—they were not allowed to bare their chests on Coney Island beaches until the late 1930s.
In this photograph, Chris Holley, winner of the twenty-seventh annual Modern Venus beauty contest, waves to the crowds from the Parachute Jump, a ride that debuted at the 1939 New York World’s Fair before being moved to Steeplechase Park in 1941. Based on a design patented by a retired Naval commander to train paratroopers, the Parachute Jump was a symbol of war that became a popular amusement ride, particularly with men who had served in World War II.
Harry Lapow began frequenting Coney Island to capture quirks of the beach and boardwalk after receiving a Ciroflex camera on his forty-third birthday. He was intrigued by the camera’s ability to isolate details and fleeting moments of everyday life. Here, a toddler’s crossed legs appear above the head of a buried woman whose eyes are covered by a floral towel. In cropping this beach sighting, Lapow crafts a surprising juxtaposition, forming an unlikely dynamic between the lively child and the masked adult.
Forever Coney: Photographs from the Brooklyn Museum Collection
November 20, 2015–March 13, 2016
As one of America’s first seaside resorts, Coney Island has attracted adventurous visitors and undergone multiple transformations, inspiring photographers since the mid-nineteenth century.
Forever Coney: Photographs from the Brooklyn Museum Collection features forty-two images that celebrate the people and places that make up Coney Island. The earliest works, taken by photographers such as George Bradford Brainerd and Irving Underhill, document the resort from the post–Civil War period through the turn of the twentieth century. Later artists such as Harry Lapow and Stephen Salmieri have photographed the many personalities that have passed through the site.
The photographers included in this exhibition are George Bradford Brainerd, Lynn Hyman Butler, Anita Chernewski, Victor Friedman, Kim Iacono, Sidney Kerner, Harry Lapow, Nathan Lerner, Jack Lessinger, H.S. Lewis, John L. Murphy, Ben Ross, Stephen Salmieri, Edgar S. Thomson, Arthur Tress, Irving Underhill, Breading G. Way, Eugene Wemlinger, and Harvey R. Zipkin.
Forever Coney: Photographs from the Brooklyn Museum Collection is organized by Connie H. Choi, Assistant Curator of American Art, Brooklyn Museum. It is presented in conjunction with the exhibition Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861–2008.
This exhibition is made possible by the Eugénie Prendergast Fund for American Art, given by Jan and Warren Adelson.