Seen in the Swing Time: Reginald Marsh and Thirties New York exhibition at the New-York Historical Society, this photograph taken at Coney Island in 1940 showcases a mass of people. At first glance I saw the mass as a whole, taking in the vast amount of bodies in one photo, and speculating as to how all of them managed to fit. However then I realized that this photo is much larger than just a huddled mass of people at the beach, but it is more a photograph of individuality. Without each singular person, doing whatever it was that they were doing, may it have been shielding their eyes from the sun, or waving at the camera, or being completely and utterly oblivious to the fact that a picture was being taken, there would be no photograph. I think that the emotion that people perceive when they see a photograph is the purpose of taking that very picture. People don’t take pictures to have snapshots of life, but they take them to be able to feel the presence of each person that partook in the photo, and to recall the feeling that the people in the photo felt. This image captures the innocent joy of beach goers, as well as the heat of the summer that they have all been waiting for. The time period of this photograph signals the aftermath of the Great Depression in New York City. It says that these people aren’t overcome by the struggles of the economic crash, even if it is for this singular moment.
I came across the photo during one of the gallery discussions that we had, and it stuck out to me particularly because of the placement of the photograph in an exhibition that was more or less full of paintings that reflected the era of the Great Depression and the ways that society, particularly in New York, coped with it. The black and white photograph captured the vibrancy of the people within it, through their facial expressions, but more so through the angle at which it was taken. Having the ability to see the crowd of people from the front all the way to the seemingly endless shore, I saw the strength of New Yorkers, in that these people came out to Coney Island, Brooklyn in the heat of the summer, and enjoyed themselves thoroughly, despite the economic situation at hand.