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Thursday, June 2, 2011

N is for Newstands: Young Women Going Places & Keeping up with the Times

I've begun looking for images in the letter N, and the first folder I looked at was Newsstands. This young woman was really going places in the 1950s... of course. Nearly twenty years later, the New Yorker ran a cartoon that implied she might have added Ms. Magazine to her newsstand wish list.

Somehow the idea of newsstands takes me back to Alexander Mackendrick's brilliant New York newsworld noir, The Sweet Smell of Success. The film stars Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster (as J.J. Hunsecker, a gossip columnist cookie full of arsenic)."The cat's in the bag," Curtis' character says, "and the bag's in the river." It's all shot in the most beautiful black and white, as if it had been drenched in the newspaper ink that fills J.J. Hunsecker's veins.

Naturally, I found a few older images that evoked that newsprint world, though neither was from New York.
Paris, 1951

Texas, 1920s

And then were a few that surprised me. A beautiful pink newsstand from Ireland, a color newsstand from Fortune Magazine 1948 that looks shockingly contemporary, a  San Francisco Chinatown stand, and Mike's of Harlem - a piece of folk art where you can buy candy or news.

But the image that surprised me the most was another woman at a newsstand, a woman minding her own stall on the street.

This, in turn, reminded me of Hilary Mantel's beautiful 1992 novel about the French Revolution, A Place of Greater Safety. It was the first book which made the characters of Danton, Robespierre, and the fascinating Camille Desmoulins. Both Mantel's book and this image are reminders of how long our world has been defined by media. Harking back to the first image in this entry, this "marchande de journaux" seems to be both definitively "going somewhere" and simultaneously "keeping up with the times." Both of these images of women - as news consumer and news purveyor remind me of a snatch of a poem from the collection Ghost in a Red Hat by Rosanna Warren; a poem that I read earlier this week:

...the mystery was,
not that she walked there, ten
years after her death,

but that she vanished,and let 
twilight take her place  --

I love to see these women emerge "walking" or sitting - in some cases centuries after their deaths - from folders in the Picture Collection. 

Warren wrote the poem for her mother, and one image of an ancient mother has been haunting me. 
She's not as old as the goddess from Chauvet Cave that Werner Herzog captures in The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, but she is described as 5,000 year old tomb statue in the 1960 Columbia Record Distributors booklet her image comes from, which somehow found its way to the MUSIC - ANCIENT EGYPTIAN  folder, part of the amazing archive of the letter M....

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