With almost a million images hosted through LUNA software the archives of the NYC Department of Records comprise the world's largest collection of historical images of New York City. Last week they added 30,000 images to their online gallery. Of this group the images getting the most attention are 187 surveillance photographs taken in the 1930s and 1940s by the "Alien Squad" unit of the NYPD. Charged with monitoring potentially subversive political groups, the unit photographed such activities as Communist meetings and a Nazi summer camp in Long Island.
Taken as a whole the Department's archives provide a rich panorama of twentieth-century life in New York. Search for your favorite neighborhood in any borough and you're likely to find photographs that date back as far as the early 1900s. Browse through the collections and you'll find historical images of Coney Island, the Central Park Zoo, night clubs in Harlem, McCarren Park swimming pool, Rockaway Beach, the Gowanus Canal, the Bellevue paddy wagon, tattoo artists on the Bowery, and WWII posters urging the public to eat nutritional food and salvage rubber. There are grisly murder scenes and photographs of the Hindenberg disaster as well as a plane crash in Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood.
Among the many historical figures that emerge is Eugene de Salignac, staff photographer for the Department of Bridges, Plant and Structures from 1906 to 1934. Using a large-format camera Salignac took over 20,000 photographs, many of which are represented in this archive. His photographs of the New York subway system can look alternately like the sublime church interiors of Saenredam, or the hellish imaginary prisons of Piranesi.
In 1948 the film The Naked City famously declared "There are eight million stories in the naked city." Surely there are a few more by now. But the NYC Department of Records is well on their way to archiving them all. And we here at LUNA are proud to support this effort.