Brighton Beach Tango

So, another day, another chance to celebrate the wonders of the Library of Congress Flickr Stream! Today, we return again to the set of news photos of the 1910s, this time with some lovely images of an interesting place: Brighton Beach. It’s gray and miserable and almost May in Iowa, but somewhere in the early 1900s, it’s a black and white and sunny summertime in New York, and the sea air is fresh over Coney Island.

Brighton Beach (LOC)
The dresses and the hats of the women are huge and bright and summery. The men’s straw hats and dark suits are surprisingly cool for a clear day, somehow just right for bearing the sun and the sea all at once.  We never see the exhibition they attend, we only see them attending it. The faces vary wonderfully — some are engaged in deep conversation, others stare into space, others are clearly looking for something.

Beach Tango -- Brighton (LOC)
It is the faces in these photographs that most interest me. They tell stories. Dancers mug for the camera while others look on, and in the looks of those others one can imagine a world of emotions and ideas. One man stares into the camera as if the picture were only of him, with a charming sort of half-smile. Another looks at the dancers’ feet, his expression somewhere between study and censure.

Beach Tango -- Brighton (LOC)

The dancers who are the center of the action are, oddly enough, almost never the most interesting thing in the image. To the left, there is a man looking directly into the camera as if he were studying the process of photography, seemingly unaware of his own presence in the image. To the right, another man wears a rather odd expression, looking rather like he’d lost something and couldn’t recall where or when — or possibly what.

Beach Tango -- Brighton (LOC)

A pair of men guard dancers within the camera’s eye, as if it were vitally important that the photographer have the clearest possible view of the dance; at least one of the guardians, on the left, seems to find the whole business rather funny, while the other looks as if the job were quite serious, a sort of official post. The boy seems to be staring at the woman’s posterior with a bit more interest than is, perhaps appropriate. Her swimming costume is fashionable, and perhaps a little racier than the fuller-skirted versions in prior photos. It’s striking how few women there are in these images — men cluster around to see what’s going on, but other than the dancers, there seem to be no women on the beach at all.

Looks like a nice summer, though. Makes me hungry for the sun!

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About L. M. Bernhardt

For a good long while (15 years or so), I taught philosophy at a little private university in northwest IA, and occasionally branched out into playing music, dabbling in photography, experimenting with food, and writing nonsense on my blog. The philosophy teaching part ended in 2017 (program elimination via prioritization), but never fear! I've just finished my MLIS at San Jose State University, and I'm currently on the market looking for new adventures in either philosophy or LIS. Otherwise, I labor to support my dogs in the lavish manner to which they've become accustomed.
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