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Guide to the Browning Photograph Collection
1918-1952
(bulk 1920-1938)
  PR 9

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400


New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Jennifer Lewis

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on August 06, 2019
Description is in English.

Biographical Note

Irving Browning (1895-1961), a self-taught photographer and cinematographer, was born in New York City. Browning opened a commercial photograph studio at 110 West 40th Street in 1922 or 1923; his younger brother, Sam, occasionally worked with him as a photographer. A former silent film actor and comedian of the 1910s, New Yorker Irving Browning photographed both exteriors and interiors of skyscrapers, art deco theaters, hotels, apartment buildings, and suburban residences, and documented the lifestyles of New Yorkers during the 1920s and 1930s.

The Irving Browning Studio received commissions from architectural firms, advertising agencies, and magazines to photographically illustrate both the realistic and idealistic urban environment of Depression-era New York City. As construction in Manhattan flourished despite the Depression, Browning was hired to document such new architectural landmarks as the Chrysler Building, the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, the RKO Roxy and Earl Carroll theaters, and the towering Empire State Building.

Through both his professional and personal work, Browning also captured some of the more intimate daily experiences of city residents. Many of his photographs from the 1930s meditate on the contrasts of poverty and wealth; they focus on poor Lower East Side peddlers, former businessmen selling apples in the aftermath of the stock market crash, and shantytowns as well as on such things as well-heeled shoppers perusing fashionable window displays and the leisure activities and lifestyles of the wealthy.

Browning was an innovator who took an avid interest in the technical aspects of photography. His correspondence hints at his interest in the evolution of color film, in advances in motion picture technologies, and in expanding the ability of still photographs to communicate. Browning's creative and sometimes frenetic photomontages were popular among magazine advertising clients. His novel circular reflection, bas-relief, and expansive architectural views graced the pages of The New York Times. Browning's technical interests also extended to the history of photography and cinematography. He amassed a large collection of vintage cameras, projectors, lenses, stereoscopic viewers, and motion picture equipment. Browning lectured on and exhibited his collection at colleges, schools, and professional organizations throughout the New York area.

In later years, Browning focused his career on creating motion pictures. He worked in a variety of capacities in the film industry, from his early work as an actor to his later work in the 1930s and 1940s as a director, producer, and cameraman. A few of his short films gained a measure of notice, including the documentary City of Contrasts (1931), and the short biopic  Women in Photography (1941) which focused on the careers of Ruth Alexander Nichols, Toni Frissel, Bernice Abbott, and Margaret Bourke-White.

Browning was a member of a number of professional organizations, including the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, the American Television Society, and the Master Photo Dealers' & Finishers' Association. His photographs were exhibited jointly with such well-regarded contemporaries as Margaret Bourke-White, Ralph Steiner, and Bernice Abbott. By 1940, Browning had founded and was serving as president of the Camera Mart, Inc., a photographic and motion picture equipment store which he owned until his death in 1961.