Lou Stoumen's Times Square

By Barry Morrison

Times Square: 45 Years of Photography. Photographs and text by Lou Stoumen. Aperture, Millerton, NY.

Lou Stoumen began photographing Times Square in 1939, having come from Springtown, Pennsylvania. One can see his wonder at the energy, the intensity, the power that surges in and around Times Square. At times, the pictures reflect that intensity and at other times there is a sense of a quiet moment, a lull in the continually moving throngs of people who frequent Times Square.
Stoumen says he began photographing Times Square “as a love letter to my adopted city.” His affection for the Big Apple shows clearly in his photographs.
Throughout the book we are confronted with the juxtaposition of the old and the new. Since 1940, Times Square has undergone many changes in appearance. In one very striking comparison, “Sunrise, The New York Times Building, 1949” is on the page opposite to “Sunrise, Number one Times Square 1982.” Forty two years pass and we are looking at the same building from almost exactly the same spot. By 1982, the ornate façade of the New York Times Building has been replaced by a more modern white stone. The change revealed by the photograph serves to remind us that progress in America consists of sometimes destroying beauty and replacing it with something plainer, less beautiful, even if we dislike the change.
The people change in the photographs over the years, too. In the forties, it seems that most men — at least the ones that Stoumen photographed — wore hats, suits, and ties. In his notes, Stoumen says, “They all looked like George Raft or FBI agents.” The people of the forties not only ylook different in dress, the feelings they carry on their faces are remindful of a time more simple, perhaps more innocent.
Lou Stoumen calls his book a paper movie. In it, we see the passing of fashion, and advertising billboards change from Camel cigarettes to sexy ads for Calvin Klein jeans. The times they have indeed changed. This book is a wonderful chronicle of the various incarnations Times Square has undergone from past to present.
Stoumen has shown himself to be a prolific artist with a sensitive heart (quite unlike the cynic Weegee). He has written, produced, and directed more than 100 motion pictures, including two Oscar winners (The True Story of the Civil War and Black Fox). Stoumen has been on the film faculty of UCLA since 1966, teaching film production, screenwriting, and aspects of photography. His work was also included in the Museum of Modern Art, New York’s The Family of Man exhibition. If you want to see how America has changed over the years, look at Times Square.