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View, New York City, Lower Manhattan, Aerial, Battery Park, Rotkin, Vintage Photograph, c. 1950s


Charles E. Rotkin (1916-2004)
Lower Manhattan & Battery Park
American: c. 1956-58
Black and white photograph
12 x 19 inches image
16 x 19.75 inches overall
Provenance: Estate of the Artist

Original aerial photograph taken by Charles E. Rotkin of Lower Manhattan & Battery Park.  It is illustrated in his book The U.S.A.: An Aerial Close-Up. It was also published in color on the cover of the October 4, 1965 issue of Life Magazine (International). It prominently shows Battery Park and shipping piers on the Hudson and East Rivers; numerous skyscrapers in Wall Street, and the Brookyn Bridge. This is an original vintage photograph, printed by Rotkin.

In Rotkin’s book, this photograph is published on page 10-11 and described as follows:

Lower Manhattan and Battery Park separate the Hudson River and the East River with its bridges to Brooklyn.  The Customs House, Bowling Green and the beginning of Broadway are to the right of the upper part of the park and on the edge of New York’s financial center.  Probably few native New Yorkers really know that the correct name for Battery Park Is Castle Clinton National Monument.  Originally constructed as a 19th-century fort, it became an opera house and then an immigrant receiving station where more than seven million new arrivals to America passed through from 1855 to 1890.  Then it became New York City’s Aquarium, was partially razed, and then restored as a monument.

Product Description Continues Below


Rotkin was a respected and prolific documentary photographer, widely published during the golden age of pictorial magazines, as well as in corporate publications.  The works that brought Rotkin the greatest renown, however, were his pioneering aerial photography collections, Europe: An Aerial Close-Up (1958) and The U.S.A.: An Aerial Close-Up (1962, 1968).  These books captured the popular imagination at the time, thrilling the public with novel perspectives of familiar places and the beauty of both the natural and the man-made environment.  Rotkin can be seen as one of the heirs to the 19th- and early 20th-century tradition of bird’s-eye views of American towns drawn by itinerant artists in the pre-aviation era and often made into prints.  Of course, the earlier artists’ work, though convincingly drawn and detailed, were typically imaginative projections based on their studies of the town from the ground.  These became obsolete with the advent of the airplane and helicopter, which offered actual bird’s-eye views, along with cameras that could take pictures at split-second shutter speeds.  Rotkin was one of the early pioneers of the new medium and technique.  His work remains significant as an early example of aerial photography with an artistic purpose, and also as historical documents of places that in many cases have significantly changed in the ensuing decades.

Rotkin became interested in photography in his late teens.  After graduating from high school he took a night job at the post office with the notion of pursuing photography by day.  He soon met Roy Stryker (1893-1975), who ran the Farm Security Administration’s Historical Section, where from 1935 to 1943 he oversaw the photographic documentation of the activities of this government agency.  The FSA was formed under President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression.  Rotkin was among the many photographers whose careers Stryker helped launch, including Walker Evans, Gordon Parks, Berenice Abbott and Dorothea Lange.  Through the FSA, Rotkin also befriended the photographer Jack Delano and the artist Ben Shahn.  In this milieu, he became interested in social theories of photography.  By 1943, he had sold photo features to New York City newspapers.  World War II was in progress, and he joined the Army, where his background as an amateur pilot led to his assignment to an Air Force squadron.  There he did aerial and gunner photography and received informal on-the-job training as a co-pilot.  He also took portraits of Air Force personnel that were published in military publications.

When Stryker accepted a position at Standard Oil of New Jersey to document the company’s activities, he hired Rotkin to take aerial photographs of the oil fields.  Rotkin’s connections with Stryker also led to his appointment as Chief Photographer for the Puerto Rican government’s Office of Information, where he set up what he later called “a mini-FSA” there and published his first book of documentary photography Puerto Rico: Caribbean Crossroads (1947).   In 1949 he was a founding member of the agency Photography for Industry, among the first photographers to apply the documentary approach to corporate projects such as annual reports. In addition to his industrial work, he published photographs in the Time Inc. magazines such as Life and Time, as well as Holiday, Business Week, Collier’s, and the New York Times Sunday Magazine.  As a member of the American Society of Magazine Photographers, he promoted the intellectual property rights of photographers and served as the organization’s president for two years in the 1950s.  Later in his life, he taught photography and wrote a respected book of career advice, Professional Photographer’s Survival Guide (1982, rev. 1992).

Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning, handling, and wear.  Some abrasions in blank white margin lower left and diagonal crease in blank white margin upper right, can be matted out. Margins a bit short on left and right but still sufficient for matting.


Chad, Barry L. “Bridging the Urban Landscape. The Photographers: Roy E. Stryker.”  Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.  14 May 2003. (8 February 2006).

Reese, Kay and Leipzig, Mimi.  “An Interview with Charlie Rotkin.”  1992.  Online at American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP). 7 March 2005. (6 February 2006).

Rotkin, Charles E. Europe: An Aerial Close-Up.  Philadelphia and New York: J.P. Lippincott, 1958.

Rotkin, Charles E.  The U.S.A.: An Aerial Close-Up. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1968.


Additional information


20th Century