Howard Greenberg Collection: Romanticism Through Times of Hardship


The “Viewpoints: Photographs from the Howard Greenberg Collection” at the Museum of Fine, Boston is a spectacular collection of images from many notable photographers. 

Greenberg’s collection explores the social history and cultural battleground of America. The photographs display the Depression Era, African American life from the 1930s to the Civil Rights Movement, and photographs of war-time as it ravaged the country and overseas.[MOU1]  Greenberg describes the impact of the works: “photography is an art form, as well as a cultural, political, and social force.” The power of the photographic eye in this collection, while powerful and saddening, still recognizes a glimmer of hope.” _


Robert Frank “The Day Before Arriving in New York” (1924)

The photograph just being in black and white adds a certain dramatism, as this man’s future rests on the unknown. The monochromatic print feels more depressing than hopefully as if the pain of leaving one’s own home and embarking on this long journey at sea is more meaningful than the final destination- New York. 


Brassai (Gyula Halasz): “Lovers in a Cafe (couple d’amoureux dans un petit cafe)” (1932)

Greenberg, commenting on the photograph, writes: “the complex composition and fragments seen in the mirrors surrounding the pair, evoking the duality of Parisian nightlife that so enchanted Brassai. His photograhs reveal the combination of glamour and decadence with lust and sinfulness all found in the city’s nighttime angst and beauty.” Additionally, the “L” shaped composition made by the mirrors draws the viewer’s eye toward the subjects, further emphasized by the stark contrast of their faces against the dark booth behind and below them.


Allen Ginsberg: “Handsome Jack with his Breakman’s Rule Book in his Pocket, 206 E. 7th Street” (1953)

Allen Ginsberg’s “Handsome Jack with his Breakman’s Rule Book in his Pocket, 206 E. 7th Street” shows a young Jack Kerouac looking out over the city. The tight cropping of the photograph between the brick wall and Keruac feels intimate and shows the close relationship between the subject and photographer, Ginsberg.



Bruce Davidson “Couple Kissing in Corner” (1959)

Bruce Davidson’s “Couple Kissing in Corner” shows the comparison between loving connection and platonic acquaintances. In the room with the couple, the highlights on their bodies make them stand out from the dark hallway surrounding them. In contrast, the room with the acquaintances has a light wallpaper, and their bodies are dark and unemotional as they sit with their backs to the walls.

The Howard Greenberg Viewpoints exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts shows the power of “photography as a tool for documentation” [of social conditions in America]. The ways in which each photographer is able to convey connectedness and love (whether that be romantic or platonic love) is truly mesmerizing. The romanticization of the American dream, of lovers, and of childlike wonder each show the ways in which one can fall in love with the world around them. 



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