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Guide to the
Richard H. Lawrence Photographs
circa 1885-1889

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

New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Joseph Ditta

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on July 15, 2020
Finding aid written in English

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of 202 copy film negatives (black-and-white; 4 x 5 in.) and 189 modern reference prints (black-and-white; 8 x 10 in.). Of special interest are the photographs Richard Hoe Lawrence took for Jacob Riis of slum conditions on Manhattan's Lower East Side in 1887. Lawrence and fellow camera club members Dr. John T. Nagle and Dr. Henry G. Piffard accompanied Riis until Riis learned to photograph on his own. Riis used the resulting lantern slides in his famous lectures on "The Other Half: How It Lives and Dies in New York." Maren Stange has recently shown that Lawrence took at least 31 of the photographs usually credited to Riis, but Lawrence cropped his copies to achieve softer character-type studies. Of the 37 slum views at the Society, five are credited to Piffard, who provided the necessary expertise in lighting dark alleys and interiors with the new magnesium flash powder technique. Other views show opium smokers in Chinatown, homeless lodgers and prisoners at a police station, a "black and tan" dive, and a boys' gang acting out a robbery.

Also significant are eight early action shots of baseball games at the Manhattan Polo Grounds in 1886. More routine views, possibly taken during family or camera club outings, include: beach bathing, the Blizzard of 1888, the 1889 Washington Inaugural Centennial naval and land parades, a fire, the Produce Exchange and Spanish Flats, sport shooting and tennis, house interiors, and Sing Sing prison. Lawrence captioned some of the photographs with descriptive titles and dates. Society staff devised short titles for the others and annotated the slum prints with detailed notes about comparable views by Jacob Riis.


Prints are filed by subject. Negatives are filed by Society-assigned numbers. The finding aid lists each image by key title subject word and by negative number. Some of the photographs are indexed in the Negative File catalog maintained by the Department of Rights and Reproductions.