This portfolio is published in a limited edition of twenty-five with the addition of four artist proof sets. Each portfolio contains fifty photographs printed from the original negatives with provision that these negatives may not be used for any further publication. The images were printed by Ron Stark on 8″ x 10″ Kodak Portralure paper with images sizes 5 1/16″ x 7 1/4″. The prints are signed, Reginald Marsh, with the estate stamp and numbered one through twenty-five. These portfolios were published in January 1977 by the Middendorf Gallery and Jem Hom in conjunction with the estate of Reginald Marsh.
This is portfolio #20.
Reginald Marsh’s Photographs
Writers often referred to Marsh as a “realist” implying that he worked directly from observation, but–as he said–he preferred to work from his imagination. Observation and memory were sources of energy and renewal. Typically, on a hot summer day in New York, Marsh would go to Coney Island, the great playground and beach. His studio was on Union Square, a crow’s nest high above the Square. From this vantage point he used binoculars to study people on the street. Preparing for a day’s outing he would take his homemade sketchbook and fountain pen, and his camera.
On the way to the subway, directly across the street, he might see some of the habitues of the Square–men who spend all day and all week sitting around the square. They barely notice him as he takes several shots with his camera. A particular detail interests him–he makes a quick sketch.
Before entering the subway, he probably would photograph the girls on the street to record their clothes, form, or gait. Next the subway entrance, the newsstand, and then the subway platform and the people in the train. All of this was food for his imagination. He loved it all! He wanted to grasp and hold all the things that held his interest and he knew that the best way to accomplish this was to see and do. So it was with pen and ink, watercolors or camera, Marshventured out of the studio to experience and see New Yorkers in action–he became a part of them but also remained an observer.
At the end of the subway ride, Marsh emerged at Coney Island. A great terminal existed to accept the trains from all part of the city; he poured out of this terminal with countless others. He walked past Nathan’s refreshment stand and into Steeplechase Park (George Tilyou, founder and owner of the park, had given him a free pass). The odors, noises and sights that greeted him were a living fantasy. Union Square was a carnival, and, at the other end of the line–Coney Island, another carnival.
Here Marsh photographed the signs in the amusement area, hawkers, and people seeking their pleasure. Once on the beach, he had countless hundreds of scantily clad bodies in every imaginable position and size to draw and photograph. In the studio he drew from hired models–this served a similar purpose as the watercolor sketches, the drawings and photographs–it allowed him to gather information. He built a great memory file. The artifact–the drawing or photograph–also served to elicit recall of the experience.
He collected and stored all this material, as a scientist might collect data, and then transformed what he had experienced and seen. What emerged was not a literal transcription. Marsh worked from within, but he did not remain isolated. He looked, studied, recorded and transformed what he saw.
Even though Marsh did not think of himself as a photographer–trying to make a photograph as an end in itself–he produced an exceptional array of photographic images. He selected unerringly the frame for the bit of reality he was about to record.
Marsh used his camera to photograph other events, such as family gatherings or friends, but his photographs of the places and people he used as themes for his paintings and prints are of special interest because of their intrinsic value and their relationship to his work.
Mrs. Marsh recalls that Marsh purchased his camera–a 35mm Leica with a standard size lens–from a German refugee. Marsh’s records reveal that he made his first photographs with his camera in January, 1938. Luckily, the negatives and prints he made with this camera have survived. Among Marsh’s photographs we find all the people and the places he loved to frequent and use as subjects for his work, except the Burlesque house, probably inaccessible because of the poor lighting conditions.
There are eighty-five photographs, contained in a photo-album, for which we have not found negatives. Judging by details of clothing such as the toque hat, it is assumed they were made in the early 1930’s. The fact that the negatives were not included among the other materials indicates that they may have been destroyed with paintings left in an earlier residence in Flushing, New York. The prints of
these negatives are 3 1/2 x 4 1/2 and have a glossy finish–suggesting that they were made by a commercial photo studio. Thus, Marsh either owned or borrowed a camera earlier than 1938. Also, he didn’t own an enlarger prior to this time. Many of these earlier photos are also of the beach and lower Manhattan. In his painting: “Coney Island Beach, 1930,” he included a woman facing the viewer, holding a camera.
Three of Marsh’s photographs were included in an exhibition organized by Edward Steichen at the Museum of Modern Art. The exhibit: “70 Photographers Look at New York” was held November 27, 1957–April 15, 1958. At that time prints were made of all Marsh’s negatives as well as several enlargements for the exhibition; the latter remain in MOMA’s photographic collection.
We are fortunate because Marsh left a beautiful photographic record of things he loved–the people and certain parts of New York. 1938 and the early ’40’s are presented for us to see as he experienced them and there is an unmistakable pleasure and attraction in what these photos reveal.
– Norman Sasowsky
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Forty-nine of the Photographs fall naturally into several categories and I have organized them on pages accordingly: Street Scenes and People (16 images); Coney Island (14 images); Beach Scenes (9 images); Subway Scenes (3 images); and Harbor Scenes (7 images). In addition, there is a wonderful image of Edward Hopper painting at his easel with Raphael Soyer sitting nearby.
The Portfolio is available for $6500.
The interested reader is referred to the following publications and website:
The Museum of the City of New York: Reginald Marsh’s Photographs of New York
Cohen, Marilyn. Reginald Marsh’s New York: Paintings, Drawings, Prints and Photographs. NY: Whitney Museum of American Art in association with Dover Publications, Inc., 1983
Goodrich, Lloyd. Reginald Marsh. NY: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., n.d.
Sasowsky, Norman. The Prints of Reginald Marsh. NY: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1976.