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Tuesday, July 05, 2022
The independent student publication of The Unversity at Buffalo, since 1950

"The beat generation, in black and white"

Scenes from the New York Times photo archives on display at the Albright Knox


If it were up to Distinguished Professor Bruce Jackson, one of the rooms in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery would house a vintage 1957 pink Cadillac.

"How can you have a '50s exhibit without a 1957 pink Cadillac?" Jackson asked at the gallery, Sunday.

Unfortunately, the classic car would not fit through the doors of the museum, so he compromised, and a rare1952 cherry-red hog (Harley Davidson motorcycle) rests in its place.

The item is one of many 1950s-era collectibles UB contributed to the museum that complement the "The Tumultuous Fifties: A View from the New York Times Photo Archives," on display from Jan. 26 to April 7.

The display features artifacts and nearly 200 vintage black-and-white New York Times photographs from the decade marked by cultural anxieties about atomic power, McCarthyism, the Cold War and the dawn of the Civil Rights movement.

The images of "The Tumultuous Fifties" are segregated into five categories: "America in the World: War Hot and Cold," containing images from the Korean War and other conflicts; "Mechanization in Command," including pictures of automotive and other assembly lines; "Growing up American;" including images of Hula-Hoops, drive-ins and baseball; "Fame and Infamy," includes a picture of James Dean and Jack Kerouac; and "American Ways of Life" housed images from racial conflicts in Little Rock, Ark. and an image of John F. Kennedy.

The photograph "School Drill" is captioned "Pupils at Public School 75 taking shelter under their desks." As students practice bomb safety procedures, the teacher takes note of their performance with an approving smile.

Another depicts a crowd gathered around the three-mile Tappan Zee Bridge in Tarrytown, celebrating the completion of the New York State Thruway in 1955.

"We have to remember that the federal highway system was constructed because President Eisenhower was impressed with Hitler's autobahn," said Jackson in a panel discussion Sunday afternoon, stressing that highways originated for military, not civilian, use.

With the help of a few colleagues, Jackson assembled the room titled, "The Material Fifties." Objects quietly sitting inside include the red Harley, chipped and rusting metal billboard ads, a waist-high Coke machine and a Pall Mall ad.

"I thought it was particularly important to show the vanishing material culture," said Jackson. "These road signs show deterioration and rust and bullet holes, and are artifacts themselves of a time vanishing."

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"They existed on the sides of buildings, barns, gas stations, bars that you could see from the road and once the interstates went in, that kind of driving virtually disappeared in America."

The decade also saw the rise of rock 'n' roll and literary gems of the Beat generation. The exhibit features old vinyl album covers of Miles Davis and Elvis Presley. Original hardcover editions of Jack Kerouac's On the Road and Alan Ginsberg's Howl are also on display, courtesy of Robert Bertholf, head of UB's Poetry/Rare Book Collection, and the university.

Douglas Dreishpoon, an Albright-Knox curator, called the contribution of Jackson's physical artifacts "the kernels of culture that help define that decade."

The photographs in the exhibit were selected from the archives of The New York Times, affectionately known as "the morgue" to Times employees. The morgue is the final resting place for every published or unpublished photograph, in a nondescript building on 43rd Street in New York City.

Nancy Weinstock, special picture editor for The New York Times, was mesmerized the first time she was allowed to explore archives. Eventually, her colleagues had to send someone in to retrieve her.

"If you have ever fanaticized about traveling in time, like I have, this is your chance," Weistock said.

Alan Trachtenberg, a Yale professor who helped organize the exhibit, emphasized the historical value of the prints beyond the images living upon them.

"Photos have a dual status as a picture and the paper itself that constitutes a photograph," Tachtenberg said. "Handwriting, ink stamps and statements like 'DO NOT BEND' and 'HANDLE WITH CARE' are themselves a statement about history."

In conjunction with the exhibit, Jackson will host a film series on Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., beginning Feb. 14 with Fred Wilcox's 1956 "Forbidden Planet," and also teaches a course at UB also titled "The Fifties."

Robert Creely, another distinguished UB professor, will offer a poetry reading at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 6 at the gallery.

Jackson and his colleagues at the gallery are unsure about the ensuing digital age and the durability of electronic documents.

"We have Shakespeare's First Folio," said Jackson. "I can go and see the Constitution. The Magna Carta is an actual document. As a scholar, I must ask, what today will exist 100 years from now?"




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