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East Broadway and Canal Street

Rebecca Lepkoff (American, b. 1916)

East Broadway and Canal Street, 1948

  • Gelatin silver print
  • 8 5/8 x 7 3/8 in. (21.9 x 18.7 cm)
  • The Jewish Museum, New York
  • Purchase: Photography Acquisitions Committee Fund, 1998-11

Not on view

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East Broadway and Canal Street

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East Broadway and Canal Street

At the center of this photograph, a religious Jew is seen purchasing a lulav—a bundle of palm, willow, and myrtle branches—for the holiday of Sukkot. The bundle tucked under his left arm appears to be another purchase wrapped in a sheet of newspaper. With his right hand, the man gestures towards the man selling the lulavs and appears to be caught mid-sentence. This bearded man is looking at the lulav seller; however, the lulav seller fixes his own gaze downward toward the push-cart. It appears as if something in the newspaper has caught his attention as he prepares to package up the branches.

There are two more men standing to the right side of the cart. One of these two men also appears to be looking at the newspaper page, while the other has his back toward the viewer. It remains unclear whom or at what he is looking.

Another part of the newspaper can be seen sticking out from under the pile of lulav branches. It is open to the sports page with a short column and a photo-spread of baseball players. Judging from the bolded text, “Stewart in Stew Again,” the photographs and article are likely about Edward Perry "Bud" Stewart (1916–2000) who played for both the New York Yankees and the Washington Senators in the 1948 season—the year this photograph was taken.

In the middleground, just behind and to the right of these four men, there is a drugstore. The word “Canal” on the drugstore’s sign is cropped off at the right edge of the photograph. Also in the middle distance, several other people are seen walking on the street and sidewalk. All of these men, like the men in the foreground, are wearing jackets, hats, and slacks.

In the background, the viewer can see a street lined with apartment buildings, one significantly taller office building, and a bishop’s crook lamppost. The slender black curve of the lamppost is seen contrasted against the backdrop of a pale and otherwise empty patch of sky in the photograph’s upper left-hand corner.

In spite of the busy nature of the composition, the viewer’s is attention is successfully drawn back toward the religious Jew, not only because he is at the center of the composition, but also because his jacket and hat are amongst the darkest values in the photograph. Moreover, the bodies of the lulav seller and the man at far right each lean inward, subtly framing the main figure.

Lepkoff’s point of view reveals the unique features of the titular intersection—Manhattan’s Canal Street meets East Broadway at a wide angle and dead ends there—and thereby orients the viewer. The main action of this photograph is unfolding on Canal Street, while the buildings seen in the background line East Broadway. The tall building seen near the center of the composition can be identified by its geographic location and architecture as the Forward Building, which at the time this photograph was taken was home to the Yiddish-language newspaper, The Forward.

It appears that Lepkoff was not holding her camera perfectly parallel to the ground when she took this photograph, as evidenced most visibly by the fact that the lamppost and the buildings in the background appear to be leaning at slight diagonals.