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Prof. Boerner's Explorations

Thoughts and Essays that explore the world of Technology, Computers, Photography, History and Family.


Archive for November, 2009
by Gerald Boerner


“’You know,’” Partridge recalls Cunningham telling her about printmaking, “ ‘people pay more money for the stained ones.’”

“I ‘spotted’ prints in her kitchen-slash-bedroom-slash-dining room, which was all one room," Partridge says with a grin. "She was so funny. I’d be working on a print and she’d say, ‘Oh, don’t worry about that. It’s just going to the Museum of Modern Art.’”

“It was a wild, pretty wonderful time," filmmaker Meg Partridge says of her childhood. "You always thought as a kid, ‘This is reality; this is normal.’”


San Francisco Museum of Modern Art:
Focus on Artists…

This site gives some more personalized insights into the lives and works of famous American artists and photographers.

Imogen Cunningham

American photographer known for her photography of botanicals, nudes and industry photos. (Portland, Oregon, 1883 – 1976, San Francisco, California) [Click on her name to access the special video segments.]

The late Imogen Cunningham got her start in photography in Seattle in 1901 with a 4 x 5 camera and a box of glass-plate negatives she purchased by mail-order. Quite often, she was her own subject, as in this self-portrait, taken in 1910 and printed in the studio of her employer at the time, photographer Edward Curtis

Click on Photo to see Slide show…

This resource represents a portion of SFMOMA’s collection. Information about the artworks presented here is subject to revision. Please contact us at to verify information. If you are planning to visit SFMOMA, please note that not all artworks are on view at all times.

This resource is for educational use and its contents may not be reproduced without permission. Please review our Terms of Use for more information.

by Gerald Boerner


“Blossfeldt was an amazing man, did the kind of macro we’re used to seeing only with huge field cameras!”
Amateur Photography Blog

“He usually placed the subjects of his photographs against white or grey cardboard, sometimes against a black background. Hardly ever can details of the rooms be detected.”
— Rolf Sachse, from the book Karl Blossfeldt

“Some interesting studies there Larry. I’m glad to see that you at last have got access to the tools needed to match your photographic talent and all credit to Bawbee for assisting you in that area.”
— BigWill Comment, in Amateur Photography Blog

“My botanical documents should contribute to restoring
the link with nature. They should reawaken a sense of
nature, point to its teeming richness of form, and prompt
the viewer to observe for himself the surrounding plant world.”
— Karl Blossfeldt

“It is therefore even more surprising that Blossfeldt was able to achieve this so easily, considering that he accomplished it seemingly uninfluenced by questions of artistic or photographic history categories.” website

“So the isolating, monumental and formalistic approach to nature not only tied in well with concepts of New Functionalism, but was also successively interpreted as illustrating the relationship between Art and Nature and as a precursor of Conceptual Art.”
Art Blart, 28 March 2009

“My botanical documents should contribute to restoring the link with nature. They should reawaken a sense of nature, point to its teeming richness of form, and prompt the viewer to observe for himself the surrounding plant world.”
— Karl Blossfeldt

“When man uses the camera without any preconceived idea of final results, when he uses the camera as a means to penetrate the objective reality of facts, to acquire truth, when he tries to represent by itself and not by adapting it to any system of emotional representation, then, man is doing photography”
— Marius de Zayas, friend of Stieglitz

“Karl Blossfeldt first published his photographs of plants in 1928, achieving overnight fame. (…) By manifoldly enlarging the inner structures of plants, Blossfeldt was able to reveal their organic form (…) Karl Blossfeldt was neither a trained photographer nor a botanist. He was a sculptor who, as a professor of art, was interested in plants for didactic reasons.”
— Karl Blossfeldt, in Art Forms in Nature


Karl Blossfeldt (1865 – 1932)

Carl Blossfeldt_1895 Karl Blossfeldt was a German photographer, sculptor, teacher and artist who worked in Berlin, Germany. He is famous for his close up photographs of plants.

Karl Blossfeldt was a botanist and photographer in turn-of-the-century Berlin. His entire photographic output is devoted to plant parts: twig ends, seed pods, tendrils, leaf buds, etc. These he meticulously arranged against stark backgrounds and photographed in magnification, so that unfamiliar shapes from the messy vegetal world are revealed as startling, elegant architectural forms. Indeed, his pictures influenced many architects and decorative artists of his time, who quoted Blossfeldt’s forms on scales as small as ornamental ironwork and as large as the shapes of entire buildings.

Blossfeldt_balsam Much like Andreas Feininger, Blossfeldt was deeply interested in forms and textures that nature uses over and over again, especially at scales not often noticed by the eye. Much like Robert Mapplethorpe, his photos also show a preoccupation for formal elements of beauty, regardless of where they may occur.

Blossfeldt achieved recognition for his microphotographs of plants, which were first seen by the public in his book Urformen der Kunst (The Originary Forms of Art), published in 1928. His book contains 120 of the almost 6,000 microphotographs he had taken since 1890, when his teacher, Moritz Meurer, assigned him to make a collection of natural forms as an inspiration. He wished to show that although nature and art are profoundly different, all forms of art have their beginning in the forms of nature. In addition to his personal work as a photographer, Blossfeldt was an art professor in Berlin.

Blossfeldt_laserwort He always considered his work as a teaching tool, not as independent works of art. The beauty of the natural forms he photographed and the objectivity and lack of sentimentality in his work readily connect him to such New Objectivity photographers as August Sander and Albert Renger Patzsch.

This line of work was not his main profession, although his fame today rests on his photographs. Rather, plant photography was part of a teaching concept, of which he was only partly the author. He taught for over thirty years at the Kunstgewerbeschule (College of Arts and Crafts) in the Charlottenburg quarter of Berlin. Shortly before his death, he announced his intention to publish his teaching methods. Neither this plan nor that of completing an archive of plant photographs was ever realized. What has remained are bundles of photographs, which have made history on their own, and the memory of a teacher, who like so many in his field left no lasting impression outside of his personal sphere.

Blossfeldt_teasel The plant photographs were produced by simple means. Legend has it that a relatively straight-forward homemade camera was used, one common in its time and not very large, with a format of 9 X 12 cm. The glass plates which served as negatives were coated with inexpensive but not completely neutral-coloured orthochromatic emulsion, and occasionally – after 1902, as they became more widely available – with panchromatic emulsions, making possible a neutral reproduction of the colour red in halftones. Since the first emulsion was thin and therefore enabled high contrast with extremely sharp edges, it served especially to stress the structural elements. It was thus used primarily for photographs with white or grey backgrounds. The rarer photos with panchromatic emulsions were used to illustrate entire clusters or beds of flowers with a wider variation of chromatic values or halftones.

Blossfeldt_X06 The most significant advance in Blossfeldt’s photo technique was in the processing stages. Rather than making prints from developed negatives or using the gum process or carbon prints (both popular at the time), Blossfeldt made slides for projection. The most common slide format before World War I (8.5 x 10.5 cm) corresponded more or less to Blossfeldt’s format; he could then select the desired section of the photo by blocking out the rest with black strips. There are no documentary records of the projection of his slides as drawing copies. We know of two methods of projection employed around 1910 however, of which he surely also made use.

One method was to project the slides onto the wall and have the students draw from the enlarged projection. The other method, used in textile design, involved reflecting the projected photo with mirrors onto the drawing board, where the students simply traced over the contours. This last exercise reduced the focus to the formal framework alone, with little relation to the original plant.

Blossfeldt_148aOn the other hand, in terms of repeated patterns and mechanics, it offered more possibilities for the application of the drawing. For such a projection to serve the mechanical copying of formal properties, the slides had to fill one precondition: they had to show the object clearly and without extraneous details. This was exactly the quality of Blossfeldt’s work, and in particular the quality of his collection of plant photographs

He wanted to give substance to the then popular notion that nature is the ultimate creative genius behind all artists and all styles of art – that, in the words of an early critic of his photographs,

"the delicacy of a Rococo ornament, the severity of a Renaissance chandelier, the mystically tangled scroll work of flamboyant Gothic, domes, towers, and the noble shafts of columns – a whole exotic language of architecture. Crosiers embossed in gold, wrought with trellises, rich sceptres: all these man-made forms find their original form in the world of plants."

Blossfeldt wished to show how logic and suitability could lead to the highest degrees of visual form. To do so, he editorialized at every juncture by carefully choosing plants with a character that suited his ends. In the selectively cast lighting, the close-up point of view, and the neutral background, he directed our attention to the particular details that he wished us to see first. The menacing thorns are half in shadow and half in light in order to exaggerate their mordant character and possibly to suggest something from the arsenal of a satanic warrior.


Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Karl Bloomfeldt that can be found at…

Also see…

Masters of Photography: Karl Bloomfeldt

Photography: Soulcatcher Studio on Karl Bloomfeldt…

by Gerald Boerner


“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
— Arthur C. Clarke

“The machine unmakes the man. Now that the machine is so perfect, the engineer is nobody.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Technology…the knack of so arranging the world that we don’t have to experience it.”
— Max Frisch

“If there is technological advance without social advance, there is, almost automatically, an increase in human misery.”
— Michael Harrington

“One has to look out for engineers—they begin with sewing machines and end up with the atomic bomb.”
— Marcel Pagnol

“Technology…is a queer thing; it brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other.”
— C.P. Snow

“For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.”
— Richard P. Feynman

“It’s apparent that many consumers intend to spend less and save more this holiday season.”
— Gian Fulgoni, comScore chairman

“Machines are worshipped because they are beautiful and valued because they confer power; they are hated because they are hideous and loathed because they impose slavery.”
— Bertrand Russell

“Cyber Monday, the Monday following the Thanksgiving holiday, is the e-commerce equivalent of Black Friday, traditionally marking the start of the online holiday shopping season.”
— James Rogers,

“Retailers have a very acute sense of the importance of Cyber Monday in kick-starting holiday sales and have been planning their promotions for months.”
— Scott Silverman, Executive Director of

“After weathering the challenge of negative growth rates throughout much of the year, we are finally forecasting a return to positive growth at a rate of 3 percent for the 2009 holiday season.”
— Gian Fulgoni, comScore chairman


Cyber Monday: Online Shopping for Christmas

Cyber Monday is a marketing term that refers to the Monday immediately following Black Friday being the busiest day of the year for retail electronic commerce. The term was created by the National Retail Federation and announced in conjunction with the deployment of their own website designed to serve as a portal for Cyber Monday deals and offers.

cyber-monday Since its inception, critics contend that consumer purchasing habits represent more of a static growth throughout the holiday season as opposed to one day in which companies "see any (unusual) traffic" on websites. It has been postulated that through mainstream media adoption of the term, combined with retailers hoping to drive more traffic to their sites, that the "Gimmick" of Cyber Monday could become a "Real Trend".

Origin of term

cyber-monday-2008 The term "Cyber Monday" is a neologism invented by, part of the U.S. trade association National Retail Federation. It was first used within the ecommerce community during the 2005 holiday season. According to Scott Silverman, the head of, the term was coined based on research showing that 77% of online retailers reported a significant increase in sales on the Monday after Thanksgiving in 2004. In late November 2005, the New York Times reported that "The name Cyber Monday grew out of the observation that millions of otherwise productive working Americans, fresh off a Thanksgiving weekend of window shopping, were returning to high-speed Internet connections at work Monday and buying what they liked."

cyber monday 2 In late November 2005, ComScore Networks, an e-commerce tracking firm, reported that online spending on Cyber Monday, excluding travel, was $486 million, a 26 percent increase from a year earlier. Total visits to shopping sites increased by 35 percent compared to a year earlier, according to Akamai Technologies. In late 2005, after the holidays, ecommerce sites reported that the busiest shopping days usually were between December 5-15 in a given year. For 2005, the year the term Cyber Monday was coined, the busiest online shopping day of the year in the U.S. was actually December 12, two weeks after "Cyber Monday".’s survey of its members found that their busiest day in 2005 was December 12. MasterCard’s worldwide (not just U.S.) data for 2005 showed that the day with the highest amount of Web transactions processed was December 5. In November 2006, prior to the holidays, MasterCard reported that an online survey it had commissioned found that only 10 percent of Americans said they would shop on the Web on Cyber Monday.

On Nov 27, 2007 Comscore reported Cyber Monday sales of US 610 Million in 2006 and US 730 Million 2007.


Some critics online and in the media have called for a boycott of the term, calling it a useless media buzzword with no basis in fact. Fark founder Drew Curtis critically mocked the term in his 2007 book It’s Not News, It’s Fark as a leading example of holiday-based "fluff journalism".


Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Cyber Monday that can be found at…

by Gerald Boerner


“A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.”
— Mark Twain

“Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.”
— Mark Twain

“All you need is ignorance and confidence and the success is sure.”
— Mark Twain

“A man is never more truthful than when he acknowledges himself a liar.”
— Mark Twain

“A man’s character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation.”
— Mark Twain

“A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.”
— Mark Twain

“A round man cannot be expected to fit in a square hole right away. He must have time to modify his shape.”
— Mark Twain

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”
— Mark Twain


Mark Twain: The father of American Literature

Mark_Twain_Brady-Feb_7,_1871 Samuel Langhorne Clemens (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910), better known by the pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist. Twain is most noted for his novels Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which has since been called the Great American Novel, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. He is extensively quoted. During his lifetime, Twain became a friend to presidents, artists, industrialists, and European royalty.

Twain enjoyed immense public popularity. His keen wit and incisive satire earned him praise from both critics and peers. William Faulkner called Twain "the father of American literature".


Twain joined his brother, Orion, who in 1861 had been appointed secretary to James W. Nye, the territorial governor of Nevada, and headed west. Twain and his brother traveled for more than two weeks on a stagecoach across the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains, visiting the Mormon community in Salt Lake City along the way. These experiences inspired Roughing It, and provided material for The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. Twain’s journey ended in the silver-mining town of Virginia City, Nevada, where he became a miner. Twain failed as a miner and found work at a Virginia City newspaper, the Territorial Enterprise. It was here that he first used his famous pen name. On February 3, 1863, he signed a humorous travel account "LETTER FROM CARSON — re: Joe Goodman; party at Gov. Johnson’s; music" with "Mark Twain".

Twain_AppletonsJournal_4July74  1874 engraving of Twain

Twain then moved to San Francisco, California in 1864, where he continued working as a journalist. He met other writers, such as Bret Harte, Artemus Ward and Dan DeQuille. The young poet Ina Coolbrith may have romanced him.

His first great success as a writer came when his humorous tall tale, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County", was published in the New York Saturday Press on November 18, 1865. It was an immediate hit and brought him national attention. A year later, he traveled to the Sandwich Islands (present-day Hawaii) as a reporter for the Sacramento Union. His travelogues were popular and became the basis for his first lectures.

In 1867, a local newspaper funded a trip to the Mediterranean. During his tour of Europe and the Middle East, he wrote a popular collection of travel letters, which were later compiled as The Innocents Abroad in 1869. It was on this trip that he met his future brother-in-law.

Early journalism and travelogues

Twain’s first important work, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County", was first published in the New York Saturday Press on November 18, 1865. The only reason it was published there was that his story arrived too late to be included in a book Artemus Ward was compiling featuring sketches of the wild American West.

Mark_Twain_Cabin_Exterior_MVC-082X  Cabin in which Twain wrote Jumping Frog of Calaveras, located on Jackass Hill in Tuolumne County.

After this burst of popularity, Twain was commissioned by the Sacramento Union to write letters about his travel experiences for publication in the newspaper, his first of which was to ride the steamer Ajax in its maiden voyage to Hawaii, referred to at the time as the Sandwich Islands. These humorous letters proved the genesis to his work with the San Francisco Alta California newspaper, which designated him a traveling correspondent for a trip from San Francisco to New York City via the Panama isthmus. All the while, Twain was writing letters meant for publishing back and forth, chronicling his experiences with his burlesque humor. On June 8, 1867, Twain set sail on the pleasure cruiser Quaker City for five months. This trip resulted in The Innocents Abroad or The New Pilgrims’ Progress.

This book is a record of a pleasure trip. If it were a record of a solemn scientific expedition it would have about it the gravity, that profundity, and that impressive incomprehensibility which are so proper to works of that kind, and withal so attractive. Yet not withstanding it is only a record of a picnic, it has a purpose, which is, to suggest to the reader how he would be likely to see Europe and the East if he looked at them with his own eyes instead of the eyes of those who traveled in those countries before him. I make small pretense of showing anyone how he ought to look at objects of interest beyond the sea – other books do that, and therefore, even if I were competent to do it, there is no need.

In 1872, Twain published a second piece of travel literature, Roughing It, as a semi-sequel to Innocents. Roughing It is a semi-autobiographical account of Twain’s journey to Nevada and his subsequent life in the American West. The book lampoons American and Western society in the same way that Innocents critiqued the various countries of Europe and the Middle East. Twain’s next work kept Roughing It’s focus on American society but focused more on the events of the day. Entitled The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, it was not a travel piece, as his previous two books had been, and it was his first attempt at writing a novel. The book is also notable because it is Twain’s only collaboration; it was written with his neighbor Charles Dudley Warner.

Twain’s next two works drew on his experiences on the Mississippi River. Old Times on the Mississippi, a series of sketches published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1875, featured Twain’s disillusionment with Romanticism. Old Times eventually became the starting point for Life on the Mississippi.


Other Events on this Day
  • In 1782…
    In Paris, the British sign a preliminary treaty recognizing American independence.

  • In 1829…
    The First Welland Canal opens, connecting Lakes Erie and Ontario.

  • In 1835…
    Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) is born in Florida, Missouri

  • In 1864…
    Confederate troops suffer devastating losses at the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee.

  • In 1943…
    At the Tehran Conference, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin agree on an invasion of Europe, code-named Operation Overlord.

Dates and events based on:

William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)

Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Mark Twain that can be found at…

by Gerald Boerner


“I do not want a documentary or sociological statement…”
— Roy DeCarava

“One of the things that got to me, was that I felt that black people were not being portrayed in a serious and in an artistic way.”
— Roy DeCarava

“A black painter, to be an artist, had to join the white world or not function — had to accept the values of white culture.”
— Roy DeCarava

“It starts before you snap the shutter… It starts with your sense of what’s important.”
— Roy DeCarava

“As unpretentious and sensitive as the black artist whose story it so eloquently tells… An important record of a quietly influential life in art.” 
— Suzanne Muchnic, Los Angeles Times

“[He] came to be regarded as the founder of a school of African-American photography that broke with the social documentary traditions of his time.”
— Randy Kennedy, The New York Times

“[My goal] a creative expression, the kind of penetrating insight and understanding of Negroes which I believe only a Negro photographer can interpret.”
— Roy DeCarava

“DeCarava reads the city’s small secrets as it goes about its business unawares, and comes in so close that everything outside his concentration falls away.”
— Vicki Goldberg, writing in The New York Times

“Going outside and meeting the challenge of taking what is and making it yours, that’s what photography does for me,” he said. “It’s not the subject that interests me as much as my perception of the subject.”
— Roy DeCarava

“He was looking at everyday life in Harlem from the inside, not as a sociological or political vehicle. No photographer black or white before him had really shown ordinary domestic life so perceptively and tenderly, so persuasively.”
— Roy DeCarava

“Roy DeCarava, the child of a single mother in Harlem who turned that neighborhood into his canvas, becoming one of the most important photographers of his generation by chronicling the lives of its ordinary people and its jazz giants…”
— Randy Kennedy, The New York Times


Roy DeCarava (1919 – 2009)

Roy DeCarava portrait Roy Rudolph DeCarava was an American photographer. DeCarava and poet Langston Hughes collaborated on a notable 1955 book on life in Harlem, The Sweet Flypaper of Life. The subject of at least 15 solo exhibitions, DeCarava was known as the first African American photographer to win a Guggenheim Fellowship and was awarded a National Medal of Arts in 2006.

Since the late 1940s Roy DeCarava has created visually acute, thought-provoking images from unexpected places. His creative intent was founded on his belief in a human-centered world and was shaped through formal language expressed initially in drawing and painting. He developed a perception of photographic tonality and time that carried a richness and a restraint into the images, enabling a quiet emotional gestalt to emerge. Many of his depictions of people in exterior and interior places appear as memories of those whom he observed growing up in different neighborhoods around and contiguous to Harlem, and other metropolitan areas of the city. Yet, even when images contain biographical references of these times, they reach beyond an individual dimension.


DeCarava_bearden Roy DeCarava was born in Harlem as the only child of Elfreda Ferguson, an immigrant, who separated from DeCarava’s father shortly after his birth. DeCarava lived in Harlem through many decades of important changes and development to the area. In DeCarava’s childhood, the Harlem Renaissance gave prominence to many black artists, musicians and writers. He was close to poet Langston Hughes, and would later publish a book with him titled, The Sweet Flypaper of Life, which chronicled the lives of Harlem residents.

To earn money, DeCarava began working at an early age. He continued to hold odd jobs throughout most of his career as a photographer. DeCarava graduated from Chelsea Vocational High School. Through diligence and hard work, he secured admission to The Cooper Union, but left after two years to attend classes at the Harlem Art Center. Deciding early on that he wanted to be an artist, he began working as a painter and commercial illustrator, and many of his early photographs were meant only as reference for serigraph prints. He was drawn to photography by “the directness of the medium,” and soon found himself communicating the themes and ideas of his paintings photographically. In 1955, DeCarava opened A Photographer’s Gallery, an important New York City gallery pioneering an effort to win recognition for photography as a fine art; the gallery remained open for over two years.

DeCarava_pepsi Many still regarded photography as a documentary medium, and as a result a great visual lexicon of photojournalism was created by so-called street photographers like Garry Winogrand and Helen Levitt. DeCarava, however, never considered himself of this tradition. Rather his work hearkens to the intense visual imagery and tones that influenced him as an early painter and graphic artist. He cherished the people, places, and events in his pictures and early on developed the means to express his affection. He shoots using only ambient light, then prints so as to coax light expressively out of very dark images or, more rarely, to delineate darker detail in very light ones. The grays in his black-and-white pictures are velvety and warm–qualities he occasionally enhances by purposely shooting out of focus or exposing long enough to show movement.

DeCarava_subway The strong lines, extraordinarily rich tonality, and exploration of light in his work charge his photographs with earthy mystery, like a prime Rembrandt painting (Rembrandt was an early influence) or a late Michelangelo sculpture in which, because of the artist’s rendering of light and mass, life seems to be springing off the canvas.

DeCarava worked for a time at Sports Illustrated magazine, but found it difficult to adjust his style and schedule to the constraints of commercial work. He did a series on the set of Requiem for a Heavyweight in 1962, which the director liked so much he bought nearly 200 prints. Despite his successes DeCarava felt very strongly about maintaining the artistic integrity of his images, and eventually gave up magazine and freelance work in order to take on a job teaching at Hunter College, where he was a distinguished member of the faculty. In 2006, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.

DeCarava_coltraneHis Photographic Style

Roy DeCarava has been making photographs for nearly half a century, at no prompting but his own. He always has lived in New York City and almost always has photographed there, creating from his immediate world the world of his art. He found his poetic voice almost as soon as he picked up a camera, in the late 1940s, and has never diverged from it.

Soon thereafter, DeCarava started to experiment with a darker tonal range. His studies of the New York jazz world, begun a few years later, further developed his penchant for dark printing. While the deep tones in his pictures sometimes push the edge of legibility, both true blacks and true whites are rare.

DeCarava_smilingAt the heart of DeCarava’s photography is an aesthetic of patient contemplation. It is common that we say to ourselves (or to others) that our lives would be richer if we could only slow down, if we could take time to savor and consider, if we would attend to our own backyards. DeCarava’s work achieves this reflective state of grace, in the way he looks at the world and in the way his pictures invite us to look at them. He loves the luxurious subtlety of photography’s infinitely divisible scale of grays, and it pleases him when viewers feel obliged to pause and peer closely into the dense but articulate shadows of his pictures. Having paused, the viewer has entered DeCarava’s world.

The photographs are still and resolute. Often the people in them are themselves still or nearly so, their inwardness a reflection of DeCarava’s contemplative frame of mind. Even a musician in a fury of improvisation and a worker straining with his load are full of poise in DeCarava’s pictures, their powerful energies compressed in timeless potential. Often, too, the frame is compressed, as if to exclude the untended bustle of the world beyond.

Decarava_graduationThrough its lyric concision DeCarava’s work addresses the viewer with uncommon intimacy; its formal grace is a vehicle of deep feeling. No one has ever made photographs more openly tender, and perhaps this is no surprise for an artist whose style is so gentle. But in the pictures there is pain and anger, too.

The emotional intimacy of DeCarava’s photography is still more remarkable because it is full of social meaning: The expression of self is nearly always an expression of relation to others. DeCarava is indeed a poet of light, but what is most distinctive and compelling in his art is the seamless, reciprocal identity of the personal and the social, as if each of these opposing aspects of the self had deepened the other.

DeCarava_Dancers uptown club dance In a series of taped interviews with Sherry Turner DeCarava (published in Roy DeCarava Photographs), Roy Decarava had much to say about his 1956 piece Dancers, uptown ‘club dance,’ New York:

“This photograph was taken at a dance of a social club at the 110th St. Manor at Fifth Avenue. It is about the intermission where they had entertainment and the entertainment was two dancers who danced to jazz music. That’s what this image is all about; it’s about these two dancers who represent a terrible torment for me in that I feel a great ambiguity about the image because of them. It’s because they are in some ways distorted characters. What they actually are is two black male dancers who dance in the manner of an older generation of black vaudeville performers. The problem comes because their figures remind me so much of the real life experience of blacks in their need to but themselves in an awkward position before the man, for the man; to demean themselves in order to survive, to get along. In a way, these figures seem to epitomize that reality. And yet there is something in the figures not about that; something in the figures that is very creative, that is very real and very black in the finest sense of the word. So there is this duality this ambiguity in the photograph that I find very hard to live with. I always have to make a decision in a case like this – is it good or is it bad? I have to say that even though it jars some of my sensibilities and reminds me of things that I would rather not be reminded of, it is still a good picture. In fact, it is good just because of those things and in spite of those things. The picture works.”


Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Roy DeCarava that can be found at…

Also see…

Masters of Photography: Roy DeCarava

by Gerald Boerner


“I never ran my train off the track, and I never lost a passenger.”
— Harriet Tubman

“I grew up like a neglected weed — ignorant of liberty, having no experience of it.”
— Harriet Tubman

“Much that you have done would seem improbable to those who do not know you as I know you.”
— Frederick Douglass

continue reading…

by Gerald Boerner


“Whatever roll of film I have, that’s what I’ll shoot.”
— Helen Levitt

“I don’t have kids and don’t know people who have ’em.”
— Helen Levitt

“[Levitt was] unquestionably among the greatest photographers that ever lived…”
Thomas Roma, Friend

“Other than Cartier-Bresson? Maybe Lartigue, but he’s not really a street photographer. I like a lot of them [street photographers].”
— Helen Levitt

“Even now, fifty years after the first of her three exhibitions at The Museum of Modern Art in New York; Levitt remains what is known as a ‘photographer’s photographer.’ ”
— Maria Morris Hambourg

“Walker needed someone to go with him in the subway. I would just sit next to him, so we were just two people in the subway, so people wouldn’t stare at him. It was fun. He had a special trick.”
— Helen Levitt

“You might get the wrong impression about Helen Levitt from her photographs. They are dying to talk. She is not. She lives in a fifth-floor walk-up in Greenwich Village.”
— Sarah Boxer, New York Times Books

“The streets were crowded with all kinds of things going on, not just children. Everything was going on in the street in the summertime. They didn’t have air-conditioning. Everybody was out on the stoops, sitting outside, on chairs.”
— Helen Levitt

“Also, maybe in the classrooms they don’t use the chalk as much. They used to steal it. Not steal it, pocket it, as we all did. I don’t think I did. I still have chalk in the other room. It comes from the early days when we were making film. On the black thing, you’d write, Scene 1.”
— Helen Levitt


Helen Levitt passed on in May, 2009. A selection of her images and a very good interview and overview of her work, especially that completed during the 1930-1945 timeframe, is found in B&W magazine, Volume 11, No. 70 (October, 2009). Please take a look at this for additional information.


Helen Levitt (1913 – 2009)

PD*28374255 Helen Levitt was an American photographer. She was particularly noted for "street photography" around New York City, and has been called "the most celebrated and least known photographer of her time.

Levitt grew up in Brooklyn. Dropping out of high school, she taught herself photography while working for a commercial photographer. While teaching some classes in art to children in 1937, Levitt became intrigued with the transitory chalk drawings that were part of the New York children’s street culture of the time. She purchased a Leica camera and began to photograph these works, as well as the children who made them. The resulting photographs were ultimately published in 1987 as In The Street: chalk drawings and messages, New York City 1938–1948.

Levitt_NYC 1940 She associated with Walker Evans in 1938-39. In 1943, Edward Steichen curated her first solo exhibition "Helen Levitt: Photographs of Children" at the Museum of Modern Art. She subsequently began to find press work as a documentary photographer.

In 1959 and 1960, Levitt received two Guggenheim Foundation grants to take color photographs on the streets of New York, and she returned to still photography. In 1965 she published her first major collection, A Way of Seeing. Much of her work in color from the 1960s was stolen in a 1970 burglary of her East 13th Street apartment. The remaining photos, and others taken in the following years, can be seen in the 2005 book Slide Show: The Color Photographs of Helen Levitt. In 1976, she was a Photography Fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Click on the image below to access the Slide Show.


In the late 1940s, Levitt made two documentary films with Janice Loeb and James Agee: In the Street (1948) and The Quiet One (1948). Levitt, along with Loeb and Sidney Meyers, received an Academy Award nomination for the screenplay of The Quiet One. Levitt was active in film making for nearly 25 years; her final film credit is as an editor for John Cohen’s documentary The End of an Old Song (1972). Levitt’s other film credits include the cinematography on The Savage Eye (1960), which was produced by Ben Maddow, Meyers, and Joseph Strick, and also as an assistant director for Strick and Maddow’s film version of Genet’s play The Balcony (1963). In her biographical essay, Maria Hambourg writes that Levitt "has all but disinherited this part of her work."

Levitt_Grafitti 1 She lived in New York City and remained active as a photographer for nearly 70 years. New York’s "visual poet laureate" was notoriously private and publicity shy.

Levitt’s wonderfully candid black-and-white shots from the 1930s and 40s — of urban kids playing, and ordinary people going about their lives — have inspired generations of photographers. So it was a delight to be able to see so many of her original silver gelatin prints up-close.

Levitt_NYC 1939 Most surprising, for me however, was to discover her vintage dye-transfer color prints from the 60s through the 80s. The color is super-saturated and startling in its ability to evoke strong memories from that period. The wonderfully warm and humorous street theater is still present in these photos, but the luscious color itself almost steals the show.

Levitt was a pioneer of color photography, starting seriously in 1959, when she received a Guggenheim grant to explore her familiar territory, but shifting from black-and-white to color. Her grant was renewed for a second year in 1960, and she recorded hundreds of color images in these intense two years. Unfortunately, we will probably never see any of those photographs. A discreet burglar broke into her apartment in 1970, and stole almost all of her color transparencies and prints — and not much else.


Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Helen Levitt that can be found at…

by Gerald Boerner


“She embodies the spirit of our work ethic: positive attitude, unyielding commitment, and resolved determination.”
— Unknown Author

“By 1945, more than 2.2 million women were working in the war industries, building ships, aircraft, vehicles, and weaponry.”
— Wikipedia on the “Women’s Roles in the World Wars”

“…the Rosie the Riveter Memorial: Honoring American Women’s Labor During WWII is the first in the nation to honor and interpret this important chapter of American history.”
— Rosie the Riveter, Home Front National Memorial Web Page

“I’m 83 years old now. I would appreciate it if you would check and find out that I was truly there and did my part to the end, and add my name to the women who did their part also…”
— Rosie the Riveter Memorial, in Marina Bay Park

“For the first time, the working woman dominated the public image. Women were riveting housewives in slacks, not mother, domestic beings, or civilizers.”
— Leila J. Rupp

“Rosie the Riveter” became the symbol of women laboring in manufacturing. The war effort brought about significant changes in the role of women in society as a whole.”
— Wikipedia on United States Home Front during World War II

Rosie the Riveter

We_Can_Do_It! Rosie the Riveter is a cultural icon of the United States, representing the American women who worked in war factories during World War II, many of whom worked in the manufacturing plants that produced munitions and materiel. These women sometimes took entirely new jobs replacing the male workers who were in the military. The character is considered a feminist icon in the US.


The term “Rosie the Riveter” was first popularized in 1942 by a song of the same name written by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb. The song was recorded by numerous artists, including the popular big band leader Kay Kyser, and became a national hit. The song portrays “Rosie” as a tireless assembly line worker, doing her part to help the American war effort:

All the day long,
Whether rain or shine
She’s a part of the assembly line.
She’s making history,
Working for victory
Rosie the Riveter

Although real-life Rosie the Riveters took on male dominated trades during WWII, women were expected to return to their everyday housework once men returned from the war. Most women opted to do this. Later many women chose to return to traditional work such as clerical or administration positions.

Riverting_team2 Man and woman riveting team
working on the cockpit shell of a
C-47 aircraft at the plant of
North American Aviation.

Rosie the Riveter was most closely associated with a real woman, Rose Will Monroe, who was born in Pulaski County, Kentucky in 1920 and moved to Michigan during World War II. She worked as a riveter at the Willow Run Aircraft Factory in Ypsilanti, Michigan, building B-29 and B-24 bombers for the U.S. Army Air Forces. Monroe achieved her dream of piloting a plane at the age of 50 and her love of flying resulted in an accident that contributed to her death 19 years later. Monroe was asked to star in a promotional film about the war effort at home. The song “Rosie the Riveter” was popular at the time, and Monroe happened to best fit the description of the worker depicted in the song. Rosie went on to become perhaps the most widely recognized icon of that era. The films and posters she appeared in were used to encourage women to go to work in support of the war effort.

WomanFactory1940s A real-life “Rosie” at work

According to the Encyclopedia of American Economic History, the “Rosie the Riveter” movement increased the number of working American women to 20 million by 1944, a 57% increase from 1940. Although the image of “Rosie the Riveter” reflected the industrial work of welders and riveters during World War II, the majority of working women filled non-factory positions in every sector of the economy.What unified the experiences of these women was that they proved to themselves (and the country) that they could do a “man’s job” and could do it well. In 1942, just between the months of January and July, the estimates of the proportion of jobs that would be “acceptable” for women was raised by employers from 29 to 85%. African American women were some of those most affected by the need for women workers. It has been said that it was the process of whites working along blacks during the time that encouraged a breaking down of social barriers and a healthy recognition of diversity  African-Americans were able to lay the groundwork for the postwar civil rights revolution by equating segregation with Nazi white supremacist ideology.

Rosie_the_Riveter_(Vultee)_DS Conditions were sometimes harsh and pay was not always equal—the average man working in a wartime plant was paid $54.65 per week, while women were paid about $31.50. Nonetheless, women quickly responded to Rosie the Riveter, who convinced them they had a patriotic duty to enter the workforce. Some claim that she forever opened up the work force for women, but others dispute that point, noting that many women were discharged after the war and their jobs given to returning servicemen. Leila J. Rupp in her study of World War II wrote “For the first time, the working woman dominated the public image. Women were riveting housewives in slacks, not mother, domestic beings, or civilizers.”

Rosie_aerial View of Rosie the Riveter Memorial
with Richmond Marina and San
Francisco Bay in background. T
his site was formerly Kaiser
Shipyard No. 2.

After the war, the “Rosies” and the generations that followed them knew that working in the factories was in fact a possibility for women, even though they did not reenter the job market in such large proportions again until the 1970’s. By that time factory employment was in decline all over the country.

On October 14, 2000, the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park was opened in Richmond, California, site of four Kaiser shipyards, where thousands of “Rosies” from around the country worked (although ships at the Kaiser yards were not riveted, but rather welded). Over 200 former Rosies attended the ceremony.

Other Events on this Day
  • In 1775…
    Captain Samuel Nicholas becomes the first officer commissioned in the Continental Marines (now the U.S. Marine Corps).
  • In 1895…
    The first auto race in the U.S. takes place, 52 miles between Chicago and Waukegan, Illinois, with the winner Frank Duryea averaging a speed of 7.5 miles per hour.
  • In 1919…
    Lady Nancy Astor, born in Danville, Virginia, becomes the first woman elected to the British Parliament.
  • In 1925…
    The Grand Ole Opry makes its radio debut on WSM in Nashville.
  • In 1942…
    Ford’s Willow Run plant in Michigan rolls out its first B-24 bomber.

Dates and events based on:

William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)

Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Rosie the Riveter that can be found at…

by Gerald Boerner


“Photography helps people to see.”
— Berenice Abbott

“The camera is no more an instrument of preservation, the image is.”
— Berenice Abbott

“I didn’t decide to be a photographer; I just happened to fall into it.”
— Berenice Abbott

“Photography can never grow up if it imitates some other medium. It has to walk alone; it has to be itself.”
— Berenice Abbott

“Photography can only represent the present. Once photographed, the subject becomes part of the past.”
— Berenice Abbott

“Photography can never grow up if it imitates some other medium. It has to walk alone; it has to be itself.”
— Berenice Abbott

“The challenge for me has first been to see things as they are, whether a portrait, a city street, or a bouncing ball. In a word, I have tried to be objective.”
— Berenice Abbott

“There are many teachers who could ruin you. Before you know it you could be a pale copy of this teacher or that teacher. You have to evolve on your own.”
— Berenice Abbott

“There are many teachers who could ruin you. Before you know it you could be a pale copy of this teacher or that teacher. You have to evolve on your own.”
— Berenice Abbott

“Does not the very word ‘creative’ mean to build, to initiate, to give out, to act – rather than to be acted upon, to be subjective? Living photography is positive in its approach, it sings a song of life – not death.”
— Berenice Abbott

“I agree that all good photographs are documents, but I also know that all documents are certainly not good photographs. Furthermore, a good photographer does not merely document, he probes the subject, he ‘uncovers’ it …”
— Berenice Abbott

“I wanted to combine science and photography in a sensible, unemotional way. Some people’s ideas of scientific photography is just arty design, something pretty. That was not the idea. The idea was to interpret science sensibly, with good proportion, good balance and good lighting, so we could understand it.”
— Berenice Abbott

“Let us first say what photography is not. A photograph is not a painting, a poem, a symphony, a dance. It is not just a pretty picture, not an exercise in contortionist techniques and sheer print quality. It is or should be a significant document, a penetrating statement, which can be described in a very simple term – selectivity.”
— Berenice Abbott


Berenice Abbott (1898 – 1991)

Berenice_Abbott Berenice Abbott born Bernice Abbott, was an American photographer best known for her black-and-white photography of New York City architecture and urban design of the 1930s.

Europe: Photography and poetry

Abbott went to Europe in 1921, spending two years studying sculpture in Paris and Berlin. During this time, she adopted the French spelling of her first name, "Berenice," at the suggestion of Djuna Barnes. In addition to her work in the visual arts, Abbott published poetry in the experimental literary journal transition.

Abbott_manray Abbott first became involved with photography in 1923, when Man Ray, looking for somebody who knew nothing about photography and thus would do as he said, hired her as a darkroom assistant at his portrait studio in Montparnasse. Later she would write: "I took to photography like a duck to water. I never wanted to do anything else." Ray was impressed by her darkroom work and allowed her to use his studio to take her own photographs. In 1926, she had her first solo exhibition (in the gallery "Au Sacre du Printemps") and started her own studio on the rue du Bac. After a short time studying photography in Berlin, she returned to Paris in 1927 and started a second studio, on the rue Servandoni.

Abbott_broadwayAbbott’s subjects were people in the artistic and literary worlds, including French nationals (Jean Cocteau), expatriates (James Joyce), and others just passing through the city. According to Sylvia Beach, "To be ‘done’ by Man Ray or Berenice Abbott meant you rated as somebody". Abbott’s work was exhibited with that of Man Ray, André Kertész, and others in Paris, in the "Salon de l’Escalier" (more formally, the Premier Salon Indépendant de la Photographie), and on the staircase of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. Her portraiture was unusual within exhibitions of modernist photography held in 1928–9 in Brussels and Germany.

Abbott_elIn 1925, Man Ray introduced her to Eugène Atget’s photographs. She became a great admirer of Atget’s work, and managed to persuade him to sit for a portrait in 1927. He died shortly thereafter. While the government acquired much of Atget’s archive — Atget had sold 2,621 negatives in 1920, and his friend and executor André Calmettes sold 2,000 more immediately after his death — Abbott was able to buy the remainder in June 1928, and quickly started work on its promotion. An early tangible result was the 1930 book Atget, photographe de Paris, in which she is described as photo editor. Abbott’s work on Atget’s behalf would continue until her sale of the archive to the Museum of Modern Art in 1968. In addition to her book The World of Atget (1964), she provided the photographs for A Vision of Paris (1963), published a portfolio, Twenty Photographs, and wrote essays. Her sustained efforts helped Atget gain international recognition.

Changing New York

View camera In early 1929, Abbott visited New York City ostensibly to find an American publisher for Atget’s photographs. Upon seeing the city again, however, Abbott immediately saw the photographic potential of the city. Accordingly, she went back to Paris, closed up her studio, and returned to New York in September. Her first photographs of the city were taken with a hand-held Kurt-Bentzin camera, but soon she acquired a Century Universal camera which produced 8 x 10 inch negatives. Using this large format camera, Abbott photographed New York City with the diligence and attention to detail she had so admired in Eugène Atget. Her work has provided a historical chronicle of many now-destroyed buildings and neighborhoods of Manhattan.

Abbott_night-view-1932 Abbott worked on her New York project independently for six years, unable to get financial support from organizations (such as the Museum of the City of New York), foundations (such as the Guggenheim Foundation), or even individuals. She supported herself with commercial work and teaching at the New School of Social Research beginning in 1933. In 1935, however, Abbott was hired by the Federal Art Project (FAP) as a project supervisor for her "Changing New York" project. She continued to take the photographs of the city, but she had assistants to help her both in the field and in the office. This arrangement allowed Abbott to devote all her time to producing, printing, and exhibiting her photographs. By the time she resigned from the FAP in 1939, she had produced 305 photographs that were then deposited at the Museum of the City of New York.

Abbott_james joyce Abbott’s project was primarily a sociological study imbedded within modernist aesthetic practices. She sought to create a broadly inclusive collection of photographs that together suggest a vital interaction between three aspects of urban life: the diverse people of the city; the places they live, work and play; and their daily activities. It was intended to empower people by making them realize that their environment was a consequence of their collective behavior (and vice versa). Moreover, she avoided the merely pretty in favor of what she described as "fantastic" contrasts between the old and the new, and chose her camera angles and lenses to create compositions that either stabilized a subject (if she approved of it), or destabilized it (if she scorned it).

Abbott_tenements Abbott’s ideas about New York were highly influenced by Lewis Mumford’s historical writings from the early 1930s, which divided American history into a series of technological eras. Abbott, like Mumford, was particularly critical of America’s "paleotechnic era," which, as he described it, emerged at end of the Civil War. Like Mumford, Abbott was hopeful that, through urban planning efforts (aided by her photographs), Americans would be able to wrest control their cities from paleotechnic forces, and bring about what Mumford described as a more humane and human-scaled, "neotechnic era." Abbott’s agreement with Mumford can be seen especially in the ways that she photographed buildings that had been constructed in the paleotechnic era–before the advent of urban planning. Most often, buildings from this era appear in Abbott’s photographs in compositions that made them look downright menacing.

In 1935 Abbott moved into a Greenwich Village loft with the art critic Elizabeth McCausland, with whom she lived until McCausland’s death in 1965. McCausland was an ardent supporter of Abbott, writing several articles for the Springfield Daily Republican, as well as for Trend and New Masses (the latter under the pseudonym Elizabeth Noble). In addition, McCausland contributed the captions for the book of Abbott’s photographs entitled Changing New York which was published in 1939.

Approach to photography

Abbott_rockefeller Abbott was part of the straight photography movement, which stressed the importance of photographs being unmanipulated in both subject matter and developing processes. She also disliked the work of pictorialists such as Alfred Stieglitz, who had gained much popularity during a substantial span of her own career, and therefore left her work without support from this particular school of photographers.

Throughout her career, Abbott’s photography was very much a display of the rise in development in technology and society. Her works documented and praised the New York landscape. This was all guided by her belief that a modern day invention such as the camera deserved to document the 20th century.

Scientific Work

Abbott_The Pendulum detail After spending ten years to make more than 300 pictures of New York City, Berenice Abbott turned to science. She knocked on the doors of scientists, telling them, "You scientists are the worst photographers in the world and you need the best photographers in the world and I’m the one to do it." (Kay Weaver and Martha Wheelock, Berenice Abbott, A View of the 20th Century, Ishtar Films, 1992) She invented what she needed as she worked, developing cameras and equipment like specialized tripods as well as techniques. After the Russian space capsule Sputnik was launched in 1957, people became more interested in science and scientists started listening to Berenice Abbott. This picture illustrating a pendulum appeared in The Attractive Universe: Gravity and the Shape of Space, a book about physics published in 1969.

Abbott cropped the photo to give it long, slender edges that complement the hanging ball. Determined to prove that a photograph could document scientific fact as well as communicate the beauty of science, she wrote, "The scientific photographs had to be carefully composed, but they couldnt look that way. I didnt want the composition to be so obvious as to take over . . . when you look at a photograph and all you can see is the composition then you know it is a big flop." (Hank O’Neal, Berenice Abbott American Photographer, 1982)

Abbott_Beams of Light through Glass Berenice Abbott’s attraction to facts and information in all of their glory, as well as her interest in the science of photography, made the subject of science a natural choice. According to Abbott, photography was "the medium preeminently qualified to unite art with science. Photography was born in the years which ushered in the scientific age, an offspring of both science and art." (Art in America, Winter 1959) For her Beams of Light Through Glass photograph, she explained:

Multiple beams of light from a source change direction when they go into a glass plate and when they emerge. Some waves are reflected inside the glass and then escape. The prism photograph was done very carefully. The prism was filled with water and not one drop of air was inside. The box that held the light source was specially designed and purposely looks as it does to make for a better composition.
Berenice Abbott American Photographer, 1982


Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Berenice Abbott that can be found at…

Also see…

Masters of Photography: Berenice Abbott

Get the Picture: Berenice Abbott

by Gerald Boerner


“The only gift is a portion of thyself.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Don’t blow it – good planets are hard to find.”
— Quoted in Time

“Oh, for the good old days when people would stop Christmas shopping when they ran out of money.”
— Author Unknown

“The Christmas season has come to mean the period when the public plays Santa Claus to the merchants.”
— John Andrew Holmes

“Advertising may be described as the science of arresting the human intelligence long enough to get money from it.”
— Stephen Butler Leacock

“Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise we cannot eat money.”
— Cree Indian Proverb

“Christmas is the season when you buy this year’s gifts with next year’s money.”
— Author Unknown

“But it is a cold, lifeless business when you go to the shops to buy something, which does not represent your life and talent, but a goldsmith’s.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

“If instead of a gem, or even a flower, we should cast the gift of a loving thought into the heart of a friend, that would be giving as the angels give.”
— George MacDonald


Black Friday: The Shopping Frenzy

black.friday.holidaze.2008 Black Friday is the Friday following Thanksgiving Day in the United States, which is the beginning of the traditional Christmas shopping season. The term dates back to at least 1966, although its usage was primarily on the East coast. The term has become more common in other parts of the country since 2000. Because Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday in November in the United States, Black Friday occurs between the 23rd and the 29th of November.

Black Friday is not an official holiday, but many employees have the day off (with the exceptions of those employed in retailing, health care, and banking), which increases the number of potential shoppers. Retailers often decorate for the Christmas and holiday season weeks beforehand. Many retailers open extremely early, with most of the retailers typically opening at 5AM or even earlier. Some of the larger retailers (depending on the location) such as Sears, Best Buy, Macy’s, Toys "R" Us, and Walmart have been reported to open as early as midnight on the start of Black Friday in localized areas and remain open for 24 hours throughout the day until midnight the following Saturday. Upon opening, retailers offer doorbuster deals and loss leaders to draw people to their stores. Although Black Friday, as the first shopping day after Thanksgiving, has served as the unofficial beginning of the Christmas season at least since the start of the modern Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1924, the term "Black Friday" has been traced back only to the 1960s.

The term "Black Friday" originated in Philadelphia in reference to the heavy traffic on that day. More recently, merchants and the media have used it instead to refer to the beginning of the period in which retailers go from being in the red (i.e., posting a loss on the books) to being in the black (i.e., turning a profit).

Origin of the name "Black Friday"

black_friday_08Black Friday as a term has been used in multiple contexts, going back to the nineteenth century, where it was associated with a financial crisis in 1869. The earliest uses of "Black Friday" to mean the day close to Thanksgiving come from or reference Philadelphia and refer to the heavy traffic on that day. The earliest known reference to "Black Friday" (in this sense), found by Bonnie Taylor-Blake of the American Dialect Society, refers to Black Friday 1965 and makes the Philadelphia origin explicit:

JANUARY 1966 — "Black Friday" is the name which the Philadelphia Police Department has given to the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. It is not a term of endearment to them. "Black Friday" officially opens the Christmas shopping season in center city, and it usually brings massive traffic jams and over-crowded sidewalks as the downtown stores are mobbed from opening to closing.

black_friday_03The term Black Friday began to get wider exposure around 1975, as shown by two newspaper articles from November 29, 1975, both datelined Philadelphia. The first reference is in an article entitled "Army vs. Navy: A Dimming Splendor," in The New York Times:

Philadelphia police and bus drivers call it "Black Friday" – that day each year between Thanksgiving Day and the Army–Navy Game. It is the busiest shopping and traffic day of the year in the Bicentennial City as the Christmas list is checked off and the Eastern college football season nears conclusion.

The derivation is also clear in an Associated Press article entitled "Folks on Buying Spree Despite Down Economy," which ran in the Titusville Herald on the same day:

Store aisles were jammed. Escalators were nonstop people. It was the first day of the Christmas shopping season and despite the economy, folks here went on a buying spree. … "That’s why the bus drivers and cab drivers call today ‘Black Friday,’" a sales manager at Gimbels said as she watched a traffic cop trying to control a crowd of jaywalkers. "They think in terms of headaches it gives them."

Usage of the term has become more popular in the Midwest since 2000.


black_friday_13 The news media frequently refers to Black Friday as the busiest retail shopping day of the year, but this is not always accurate. While it has been one of the busiest days in terms of customer traffic, in terms of actual sales volume, from 1993 through 2001 Black Friday was usually the fifth to tenth busiest day. In 2002 and 2004, however, Black Friday ranked second place, and in 2003 and 2005, Black Friday actually did reach first place. The busiest retail shopping day of the year in the United States (in terms of both sales and customer traffic) usually has been the Saturday before Christmas.

black-friday-linesIn many cities it is not uncommon to see shoppers lined up for hours before stores with big sales open. Once inside the stores, shoppers often rush and grab, as many stores have only a few of the big-draw items. On occasion, injuries and even fatalities are reported. On Friday, November 28, 2008, Jdimytai Damour, a worker at a Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, New York was trampled to death by shoppers who broke through the store’s glass doors minutes before the store’s scheduled opening at 5:00 a.m.; a pregnant mother was hospitalized from injuries in the same human "stampede", though early reports of a resultant miscarriage were determined to be in error. On that same day, two people in Palm Desert, California were shot and killed in a Toys R Us store during an argument

black-friday-300x232 Electronics and popular toys are often the most sought-after items and may be sharply discounted. Because of the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, many choose to stay home and avoid the hectic shopping experience. The local media often will cover the event, mentioning how early the shoppers began lining up at various stores and providing video of the shoppers standing in line and later leaving with their purchased items. Traditionally Black Friday sales were intended for those shopping for Christmas gifts. For some particularly popular items, some people shop at these sales in order to get deep discounts on items they can then resell, typically online.

In an attempt to draw attention to the negatives associated with a consumerist lifestyle, this day has also been used for activities such as Buy Nothing Day.

Cyber Monday

The term Cyber Monday, a neologism invented by the National Retail Federation’s division, refers to the Monday immediately following Black Friday, which unofficially marks the beginning of the Christmas online shopping season.

black_friday_05 In recent years, Cyber Monday has become a busy day for online retailers, with some sites offering low prices and other promotions on that day. Like Black Friday, Cyber Monday is often wrongly said to be the busiest shopping day of the year for online shoppers, though in reality several days later in the holiday shopping season are busier.

Earlier in the 2000s the day had more significance (though it was not named as such until 2005) as most people did not have broadband connections at home and presumably used the first day back at work from the long Thanksgiving weekend to take advantage of such connections in the office to do online shopping. In response, many retailers now encourage people to do their online shopping at home on Thanksgiving Day itself by offering their Black Friday sales online that day.


Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Black Friday that can be found at…