The Pleasure of Intimate Relations

A boardinghouse rule forbids men guest to come into girls' rooms and vice versa © Esther Bubley

A boardinghouse rule forbids men guest to come into girls’ rooms and vice versa, March 1943 © Esther Bubley

Coney Island, c. 1947 © Sid Grossman

Coney Island, c. 1947 © Sid Grossman

During the latter stages of WWII as well as the immediate years following it, the image of men and women exhibiting intimate relationships and high-spirited expressions was a distinct theme in photography.  While the war had been at the forefront of many people’s minds, especially that of young adults, they realized the value of the relationships men and women shared and the fact that war may strip them of such pleasure at any moment.  Exploiting these interactions were Jewish photographers Esther Bubley and Sid Grossman.  Both leaders in their work, Grossman and Bubley captured the scenes of the somewhat scandalous and free-spirited men and women who illustrated social reform, including the loosening of morals.  In reality, the war caused American society to change drastically, since women were required to perform the industrial jobs men had done before WWII commenced.  This change also granted women much more power, both socially and economically, and engendered new opportunity for them.  As a result of the war, the role and power of women had been forever altered.

Sid Grossman

Sid Grossman

Although both Sid Grossman and Esther Bubley sought to promote social change and to document normal people during time of war, they did so in different ways and by different means.  Grossman, who lived in New York for most of his life and who was born to immigrants, began his career as an amateur in the Camera Club.  Several Years later in 1936, Sid and his friend Sol Libsohn founded an exclusive photography group in New York called the Photo League.  In the Photo League, Sid Grossman served a variety of roles including, educator, reviewer, administrator, and editor of the newsletter, Photo Notes.  Aside from the Photo League, he also spent a year working for the WPA, a project created from the New Deal.  Because of his experiences, Grossman was inclined to take social pictures incorporating normal people in their typical settings.

Esther Bubley

Esther Bubley

Like Sid Grossman, Esther Bubley was also born to Jewish immigrants; however, she lived hundreds of miles away from New York City and the Photo League.  Growing up in Philips, Wisconsin, Bubley became inspired by the magazine, Life, during her senior year of high school and decided to pursue her newly acquired passion for photojournalism.  After high school, she attended secondary education for three years and then moved to Washington, D.C. to look for work as a photographer.  Landing a brief stint with Vogue, Esther soon went to work.  She was grateful for this job opportunity but ultimately wanted to work for Roy Stryker.  Stryker, who lead the Farm Security Administration Documentary Photo project, did eventually become a mentor for Esther Bubley as she impressed him immensely and landed a spot with the Office of War Information.  Overall, Bubley photographed a variety of topics and themes, but her main focus was on the average person during WWII.

A boardinghouse rule forbids men guest to come into girls' rooms and vice versa

Illustrating social reform in the Unites States as well as an attitude of being carefree are Esther Bubley’s picture, “A boardinghouse rule forbids men guest to come into girls’ rooms and vice versa,” and Sid Grossman’s photograph of “Coney Island, c. 1947.”  Both photographs show an intimate and cheerful interaction between a man and a woman despite being taken during different times.  Bubley’s image was captured in March of 1943, while the war raged on.  In this scene, a man and a woman engage in a scandalous romance, being that men were not allowed to enter the rooms of women in the boarding houses.  The man and woman are rather casual and flirtatious, and they seem not to be concerned with the repercussions of their actions.  Albeit Sid Grossman’s photograph of a man and woman at Coney Island also expresses an intimate and happy relationship, it was taken after WWII had ended and thus incorporates a different time and understanding.  Whereas the objects of Bubley’s photograph were documented during a time of the growth in the power of women and a time of combat and grief, Grossman’s image was taken in which the effects of the war could be seen.  This was a much more optimistic and less reserved era than was the previous one, and it was one that was more likely to see men and women interact romantically.  This was especially true since husbands and boyfriends were back from the war.  In describing these interactions at Coney Island, Sid claims he is so drawn to capture them because they included people “who had these feelings, these limbs, these relationships, who had this peculiar kind of energy” (Lou Stoumen 1041).  Furthermore, he was captivated by the energy and emotion of the people in his pictures at Coney Island.

Coney Island, c. 1947Coney Island, c. 1947

Being raised by Jewish immigrants, Sid Grossman and Esther Bubley both gained an appreciation for promoting social change.  They showed the world as it was and accurately portrayed the interactions among its inhabitants.  Although Grossman was labeled as a communist, his work was still influential and effective in showing the transformation of life as they knew it.  Like Grossman, Bubley was also essential in documenting the power shifts among genders as well as the social exchanges between them.  Despite their differences, Esther Bubley and Sid Grossman had many similarities in their goals and purpose.

More Images from Esther Bubley and Sid Grossman

 

The Photo League

Sources

Websites

“Encyclopedia of Twentieth-century Photography, Volume 1.” Google Books. 22 Oct. 2013 <http://books.google.com/books?id=YeK7FXhKrw0C>.

“Esther Bubley – Women Come to the Front (Library of Congress Exhibition).” Esther Bubley – Women Come to the Front (Library of Congress Exhibition). 22 Oct. 2013 <http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/wcf/wcf0012.html>.

“Esther Bubley.” Wikipedia. 10 Sept. 2013. Wikimedia Foundation. 22 Oct. 2013 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esther_Bubley>.

“The Photographers: Roy E. Stryker.” The Photographers: Roy Stryker. 22 Oct. 2013 <http://www.clpgh.org/exhibit/photog14.html>.

“The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League, 1936-1951.” The Jewish Museum New York. 22 Oct. 2013 <http://www.thejewishmuseum.org/exhibitions/photoleague>.

“Sid Grossman.” Sid Grossman. 22 Oct. 2013 <http://www.laborarts.org/exhibits/laborimages/bio.cfm?id=24>.

“Works Progress Administration.” Wikipedia. 22 Oct. 2013. Wikimedia Foundation. 22 Oct. 2013 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Works_Progress_Administration>.

“World War II.” Wikipedia. 21 Oct. 2013. Wikimedia Foundation. 22 Oct. 2013 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II>.

Images

“Esther Bubley – Women Come to the Front (Library of Congress Exhibition).” Esther Bubley – Women Come to the Front (Library of Congress Exhibition). 22 Oct. 2013 <http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/wcf/wcf0012.html>.

“John Edwin Mason: Documentary, Motorsports, Photo History.” ‘John Edwin Mason: Documentary, Motorsports, Photo History’ 22 Oct. 2013 <http://johnedwinmason.typepad.com/john_edwin_mason_photogra/office-of-war-information-owi/page/3/>.

“Lee Miller 1920s.” Samo Tako. 22 Oct. 2013 <http://samotako1.wordpress.com/tag/photographers/>.

“Redeeming a Life in Photography.” Lens Redeeming a Life in Photography Comments. 22 Oct. 2013 <http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/23/redeeming-a-life-in-photography/>.

“Remembering Sid Grossman.” N Jay Jaffee Remembering Sid Grossman Comments. 22 Oct. 2013 <http://njayjaffee.com/writing/remembering-sid-grossman/>.

“Secondat.” : Esther Bubley. 22 Oct. 2013 <http://secondat.blogspot.com/2009/06/esther-bubley.html>.

Video

“The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League, 1936-1951.” YouTube. 13 Apr. 2012. YouTube. 22 Oct. 2013 <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZwIFLB1OTg>.