Here Comes the Summer: Beautiful Color Photos of Coney Island in the Early 1960s

Aaron Rose—Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Aaron Rose—Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Coney Island 1961-1963

With the summer heat edging ever closer, the Museum of the City of New York is putting on an exhibition of 70 — count them — previously unseen images of sunny 1960s Coney Island by renowned New York photographer Aaron Rose.

Busy, hazy and a whole lot of fun, the photographs — taken between 1961 and 1963 — show us a side of New York life we don’t often see: a beach full of sun-lovers soaking up rays. Here are men in swimming briefs flexing their chest muscles, women in beautifully decorated bikinis lounging under parasols. Couples, too, cuddling on the sand.

And much like the city so many of these people surely come from, the beach is crowded as hell. In some images, sun-worshipers appear to bump up against one another, as if they are part of some seaside fender-bender.

“[Coney Island] was filled with people who work in all kinds of professions, who would never normally be out like that,” as Rose tells TIME. “The beach makes them have something in common — and that’s the thing I like most about it.”

Indeed, these images get to the very core of what Coney Island represents, even today, to many Americans. Originally a small seaside town — the “island” is actually a peninsula — Coney was once renowned as the so-called “playground of the world”: the home of the wooden Cyclone roller coaster, and the historical amusement mecca Steeplechase Park, among many other attractions. This was a place where generations of New Yorkers came to catch the summer’s best days, a resort in which to staycation before the staycation existed.

Rose’s photos even look like summer. A native New Yorker — often mentioned in the same breath as Wegee and Bruce Davidson — he was famously one of the earliest adopters of both C-print paper and chromogenic processing (a type of paper and a type of film processing closely associated with mainstream 20th century color photography). He also used a Leica, and tried not to allow subjects to see him taking photographs. These techniques allowed his candid images to boast clean whites and rosy tints that perfectly capture a specific time: the early 1960s. And a specific place: humid, languid New York.  

What makes his work most interesting, though, is not what it shows, but what it does not show: the pomp and ceremony of Coney’s amusement arcades, the hubbub of its piers. What we see, instead, is an up-close look at regular people enjoying themselves at the beach. This is a slice of everyday 1960s life at its most frank, and its most beautiful.


In a World of Their Own: Coney Island Photographs by Aaron Rose, 1961-1963 is on view at Museum of the City of New York, May 9 – Aug. 3, 2014   

Richard Conway is Reporter/Producer for TIME LightBox. Follow him on twitter @RichardJConway


Related Topics: , , , , , , ,

Latest Posts

2014.  Gaza.  Palestine.  Schoolchildren head to class at the Sobhi Abu Karsh School in the Shujai'iya neighborhood. Operation Protective Edge lasted from 8 July 2014 – 26 August 2014, killing 2,189 Palestinians of which 1,486 are believed to be civilians. 66 Israeli soldiers and 6 civilians were killed.  It's estimated that 4,564 rockets were fired at Israel by Palestinian militants.

Inside Gaza with Photographer Peter van Agtmael

What photographer Peter van Agtmael encountered in Gaza changed the way he worked.

Read More
WASTELAND PERMITTED USE: This image may be downloaded or is otherwise provided at no charge for one-time use for coverage or promotion of National Geographic magazine dated December 2014 and exclusively in conjunction thereof.  No copying, distribution or archiving permitted.  Sublicensing, sale or resale is prohibited.     REQUIRED CREDIT AND CAPTION: All image uses must bear the copyright notice and be properly credited to the relevant photographer, as shown in this metadata, and must be accompanied by a caption, which makes reference to NGM.  Any uses in which the image appears without proper copyright notice, photographer credit and a caption referencing NGM are subject to paid licensing.        Mandatory usage requirements: (Please note: you may select 5 branded images for online use and 3 images for print/unbranded)1. Include mandatory photo credit with each image2. Show the December cover of National Geographic somewhere in the post (credit: National Geographic) unless using only one image3. Provide a prominent link to: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2014/12/superfund/voosen-textat the top of your piece, ahead of the photos 4. Mention that the images are from "the December issue of National Geographic magazine” GOWANUS CANALNew York, New YorkPollutants: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), mercury, lead, copperYear listed: 2010Carved from a tidal estuary 160 years ago, the Gowanus Canal is Brooklyn’s industrial artery—and a deeply polluted waterway. Even so, it’s frequented by herons, seagulls, crabs, and canoeists. Defying local fears of economic stigma, the EPA listed the canal as a Superfund site in 2010. It hopes to start dredging contaminated mud in 2016.

Photojournalism Daily: Nov. 24, 2014

Mideast Israel Palestinians

The Best Pictures of the Week: Nov. 14 – Nov. 21

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 19,277 other followers