Let’s be frank: Berenice Abbott’s “Hot Dog Stand” is so NYC.
Hot Dog Stand, West St. and North Moore, Manhattan by Berenice Abbott
10"x8" ($35) | 14"x11" ($75) | 20"x16" ($260) | 24"x20" ($650)
This black and white Berenice Abbott photo is a real wiener. Ok, forgive us the (irresistible!) dad joke. It’s just that tomorrow, July 21st, is National Hot Dog Day, and this new edition feels like such a fitting way to honor a) a food that’s become a fixture in New York’s culinary persona and b) a legendary photographer whose work would shape our sense of the city and frame it’s history henceforth.
The NYC street vendor scene is an essential part of the texture of this metropolis, sustaining us with soft pretzels, tamales, roasted nuts, halal plates, and so much more. Perhaps the most iconic sidewalk fare is the hot dog, the reigning king of New York street meat—affordable, easy to eat on the go, satisfying, and widely available. Part of Abbott’s acclaimed Changing New York series, Hot Dog Stand, West St. and North Moore, Manhattan is a departure from the photographs of architecture and urban design that are usually referenced in characterizing the project. But as our Berenice Abbott collectors already know, the artist often turned her lens on more intimate details of the city as well. Cheese stores, newsstands, bakeries, automats, and hot dog carts are as much a part of New York’s makeup as the skyscrapers, bridges, and buildings, Abbott’s images seem to say.
Abbott had a deeply ingrained sense of the balance between objectivity and subjectivity in her work, intent on representing reality but all the while aware that her choice of subject, angle, and other aspects automatically imposed the personal on everything she shot. In Hot Dog Stand, West St. and North Moore, Manhattan, the close crop and shallow depth of field establish straight up that this image is all about the vendor and his stand. The midday sun and sharp focus create crisp wheel shadows on the sidewalk and draw the eye to the hand-painted lettering on the cart calling out ice cold lemonade and hot frankfurter rolls for 5 cents a pop. That pricing, the wheels, the slice of skyline blurred at the back, and the sliver of a truck Abbott’s included at right are all historical context clues, situating us squarely in the 1930s. By contrast, the neat stacks of buns and paper bags you can see in those glass cubbies, and the classic umbrella are familiar sights to anyone who has hit up an NYC hot dog stand in the last century—time has barely touched them.
Here in New York, hot dogs and the carts that dole them out on busy corners are a part of the city’s cultural tapestry. Hot Dog Stand, West St. and North Moore, Manhattan hones in on a smaller scale scene with a clear thread to the Big Apple’s present-day frank purveyors. It’s an image that doesn’t just document, but taps into something magnetic, elusive, and immutable about this city’s essence—and underscores the importance of all the artists like Abbott who devoted (and devote) themselves to preserving some of that essence for eternity.
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