Sunday, February 8, 2009

Children at Play in the 1880's - Wallace G Levison for 'Life' Magazine

Wallace G. Levison sitting on a pedestal on Statue Of Liberty island looking out at boats in NY Harbor (1885)

Today, I came across Google's 'Life' Magazine Photo Archive for the second half of the C19 and much of the C20.

Perhaps most interesting for me were those of the 1880s - mostly by Wallace G Levison. I googled this photographer and surprisingly nothing came up, bio-wise. You know anything?

Levison produced much work for the magazine within a great ranges of contexts - the sea-side, cityscapes, modes of transportation, dress of the day, dining at home, work ... and children at play:

Children holding hands in a circle as they dance around a pole with their backs to it (1886)

Young Ethel Merritt jumping in the air at Coney Island (1886)

Young Isabel Harter riding a tricycle while her sister Nellie rolls a hoop, with other children and adults in background (1886)

Zelma Levison jumping in the backyard of her home at 314 Livingston St. (1886)

Young girls Isabel and Nellie Harter jumping a rope turned by Edie Dwight and Zelma Levison. Nellie Dwight on the bench and Edie Swan on the cannon wait their turns. Ft Green (1886)

Edie Swan and Harry Dwight rolling hoops in a field as other children look on in background. Ft Greene (1886)

Four young girls jumping off a waist-high wall as two women look on at Ft. Greene (1886)

What's so appealing about these photos is their seeming spontaneity and the way they catch some of the innocent pleasures of childhood.

Which is seems at odds with the current politically-correct view of that period of our lives as being trauma- and angst-ridden.


  1. Thank you for including the Google picture archive link, Nick. I never knew that archive existed, and it is fascinating. I could look through old pictures like that all day long. Somehow I just feel transported into whatever era is depicted. Thanks again for the link and for your incomparable blog.

  2. Well, dear Nick, we all experienced good times and bad times in our childhood. Guess it depends on what side of the tracks (aka what neighborhood) you were born in and how good of a family you were born into.

    Still, interesting photos that caught the action without blurring it seems.

  3. hey chaz

    i came across it cos i use google chrome as my browser - it's a very straight-forward one that interfaces well with google itself

    and they advertise any new stuff like this

    it takes a while to work thru the archive - lots of hours of contemplation for me - reckon i'll be tempted to post some more!

    take care


  4. hey greg

    the post was originally titled 'children at work and play' cos the archive has little kids working, one in particular had mt attention: a tiny black kid driving a horse-drawn bus

    but there would've been too many pics - and i wanted an excuse for another post - 'work for young and old'

    the archive in general covers a broad range of socio-economic and ethnic groups - tho what the photographers thought, who knows - probably something like patronizing missionaries with respect to working black kids



  5. Or maybe the photographer just liked rugrats?

  6. hey greg


    he had such a broad range of interests, when you look through the 'Life' archive

    at lot of the time i guess his choices were driven by the magazine but i'm sure the photographer has some imput

  7. Some of those 1886 photos are like Seurats, only painted with light instead of paint. Fascinating.

  8. hey keith

    yep, much early photography took its compositional inspiration from painting

    there were even photos of religious subjects that were really just mock ups of renaissance oil and tempera panel works