his 1949 extended essay, Here is New York, E. B. White
famously said that there are three New Yorks: the New York of the
natives who give the city its "continuity," the New York
of commuters who give it its "restlessness," and the
third New York - the city of those who come from elsewhere on a
quest. To him it was this last New York that was the
greatest - the idea of the city as a goal that gave the city its
"high strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its
dedication to the arts, and its incomparable
achievements." Eudora Welty stopped for a while in New
York, and brought with her the eyes of an outsider….
Welty was a Southerner by birth who came to New York in 1930 to
attend Columbia Business School. She returned South the
following year, and spent several years as a junior publicity
agent for the Works Progress Administration, photographing people
in rural Mississippi and the way the Depression marked their
lives. In 1936, she exhibited her Mississippi photographs at
the galleries of Lugene Opticians in New York.
photographs from the Lugene show as well as her New York City
photographs, taken around 1935, are currently on view at the
Museum of the City of New York's exhibit Eudora Welty in New
York: Photographs of the Early 1930s. They offer a
glimpse into Depression-era America, both rural and big city,
through a writer's eyes for subtlety and nuance. In Sunday
Morning, an African-American girl in her Sunday best holds a
black umbrella at an angle. The umbrella is no dainty parasol - it
is large, a grown-up's, and perhaps protects her from the sun for
it is not raining. The photograph is beautifully composed, a
tentative hopefulness in the eyes and smile of the child.
Welty's New York photographs are conscious of architecture and
urbanity. In Outdoor Stairway, New York, one looks down
through the wrought iron staircase of an elevated subway
line. A man in a hat walks past a sign which reads 'United
Cigar' - Welty captures the city's evanescent beauty in a moment
of quiet repose.
went on to become 'the First Lady of Southern Literature,' for her
short stories and novels, and received a Pulitzer Prize for her
1973 novel The Optimist's Daughter. She died in 2001
at the age of 92.
said of her photography, which she gave up after leaving behind
her camera on a bench in Paris in the 1950s: "… a camera
could catch that fleeting moment, which is what a short story, in
all its depth, tries to do. If it's sensitive enough, it catches
the transient moment."
Welty in New York: Photographs of the Early 1930s
New York (c.1935)