Gottscho and Googie

SHORPY Gottscho

August 13, 1957. Greenfield Park, New York. “Tamarack Lodge. Sharp view.” .Large-format acetate negative by Samuel H. Gottscho.

This prime example of Mid-Century Modern was taken in 1957 by Samuel H. Gottscho. The Googie-style architecture meets the dart-sharped muscle car  in the blazing sun of postwar prosperity.

Gottscho (1875-1971) was a very industrious architectural photographer in New York who didn’t go professional until he turned 50, after 23 years as a lace salesman. Now that’s a career trajectory that gives you hope. He even claimed his best work was done at 70, which gives me hope.

See how he organizes the picture in a tightly structured design: the sweeping diagonal white lines contrasted with the static dark of the car; the sense of movement, and that summery brightness. For more of his excellent photographs see this Museum of the City of New York site which shows a very disciplined and intelligent photographer.

The subject of this photograph is Tamarack Lodge, a hotel in the Catskills which burnt down in 2012. Its new owner was charged with arson soon after.


Gottscho’s order


Samuel H. Gottscho, Vista under elevated railroad at Coenties Slip c1930

From all the evidence, Samuel H. Gottscho was a neat photographer. He certainly knew how to organize a picture. Look at these tidy compositions of New York city taken well back in the 20th century. The sweeping lines of elevated railway are framed by the girder at left and top edge, and by the line of shadow at the bottom edge. This is careful photography. It’s the sort of precision that comes with using large format where the image is upside-down on the screen, therefore abstracted.

Something like that can be seen in the image below of the Chrysler building where lines of shadow frame the city at left and bottom. The rectilinear shapes of the buildings are preserved by his accurate view camera adjustments; they seem to bring out the underlying geometric order of the city.

Why are these images so dark? They were clearly not intended to look this way for the client. It may be because they are negative scans or poorly scanned prints taken from Gottscho’s archive. They are from the extensive pages on the Museum of the City of New York website. Have a look, Gottscho is a discovery.


Samuel H. Gottscho, 42nd St from Tudor City, no date