Linda Poon is a staff writer at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
Only recently uncovered in an attic, photos from Frank Larson give an intimate look at what was then the center of the modern world.
A lot happened in the 1950s: The Civil Rights Movement began to take shape, America’s economy boomed, and people rocked and rolled even as the threat of nuclear war loomed over the country. New York City—then considered the center of the modern world—was bustling, and the streets were a playground for photographers.
Among them was Frank Larson, who in the ‘50s was working a 9-to-5 job as a bank auditor. On the side, Larson was an avid street photographer who spent his weekends exploring the nooks and crannies of New York City with his Rolleiflex camera. He went from Times Square to Central Park to less trendy enclaves like Chinatown and Flushing. Larson quietly developed his photos in a darkroom in his basement, and aside from a few that were submitted to amateur photo contests, most were only shared with his family.
Larson died in the 1960s, and his talent went virtually unnoticed for the next 45 years. It wasn’t until the wife of his youngest son stumbled upon a mound of negatives tucked away in a box in the attic that Larson’s work came into the public spotlight. Since then, the negatives and photos have been handed over to the Queens Museum of Arts, which displayed them in an exhibit in 2012.
"As I began unsealing each packet and holding the negatives up to the light, it was like a trip back in time, back to the New York of the early '50s,” Soren Larson, the photographer’s grandson, told Creative Boom. Indeed, the photos offer an intimate glance into the past, capturing everything from children feeding an elephant at the Bronx Zoo to Larson’s own bowling team. His photos show that life in New York at that time was anything but mundane.