Photographs by John Albok
“If you grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the 1940’s like myself, you were accustomed to the visual spectacle of clotheslines filled with various towels, sheets and garments. Washers and dryers were a luxury only a few could afford.” Said Burt Finger, PDNB Gallery Curator.
These impressive vintage photographs by New York photographer, John Albok, were selected as a testament to his eye and his search for art in the most common places of the densely populated city of New York.
This subject matter was not approached as a typology as Karl Blossfelt did with his plant studies. Mr. Albok’s purpose was to document his world around him in a poetic, human way.
One of the photographs (no. 9026) appears dark and eerie.
While most of these images have a lively urban message, this one has a unique character, very moody and isolated. It illustrates that one can be alone in a city of millions. But perhaps Mr. Albok approached this as a composition of abstract design. The silhouette of the buildings is used to draw your attention to the many horizontal lines crisscrossing the sky along with the various vertical and horizontal lines of the telephone antennas and stairway, much like a Piet Mondrian painting.
The color photograph (no. 7407) is a small 4 x 4 inch treasure. It illustrates that Mr. Albok experimented throughout his career. The element of color works to bring more drama to the courtyard, which is really an airshaft. His use of color was rare, but when you group these images together you can see why this is a great find. Although the subject is the same, he found an alternative way to romanticize the common icons of his day, just as the modernist photographer, Joseph Sudek, transformed everyday objects into sublime work of art.
There are a couple of images that seem absent of clotheslines. In 1939 Mr. Albok documented the World’s Fair. You can see the memorable Trylon and Perisphere (no. 9405) in the background of this particular image, but hidden in the center of this photograph is a single clothesline. His purpose of taking this photograph was most likely not to point out the clothesline but to show the nearby presence of the nearby icons that had represented high hopes for the future during the Great Depression.
Throughout most of his life his photographs were taken just outside his tailor shop and home on Madison Avenue bordering Spanish Harlem. In several of these photographs you will see his “backyard”. This of course is an airshaft designed to provide air circulation through each apartment.
These vintage photographs have the power to bring you back in time to a more simple life. Although the notion of “simple” is relative, the nostalgic appeal remains. One can see and hear the activity of the street and view the women stringing out and pulling in the clotheslines, people chattering in their apartments with windows open, something is cooking on the stove and kids are playing outside in the streets. This simple clothesline gives ample meaning to Mr. Albok’s common democratic theme for humanity.