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Remembering Vivian Cherry Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

9 March 2019

She started dancing when she was five years old and worked on Broadway before becoming a street photographer in the 1940s, licensing her photo essays to Popular Photography, Collier's, Sports Illustrated, Red Book, Life, Ebony and other publications for 50 years. She passed away on March 4 at the age of 98.

In this two-minute profile broadcast last year, Cherry talks about her career:

She had danced professionally in clubs and on Broadway for a year in Showboat and another six months in Sadie Thompson before injuring her knee.

"I was walking by a printers called Underwood and Underwood and I saw a sign saying, 'Darkroom Help Wanted! -- No Experience Necessary!'" she said. "I remember it was the 'no experience' bit that caught my attention -- I didn't know what the job would entail. At that time they were short on people to print photographs because so many men had been drafted, so I applied and got the job."

Underwood and Underwood, a prominent photo service to news organizations, turned her into a skilled printer of photographs. Her education in photography continued at the Photo League where she studied with Sid Grossman. She began selling her photo essays to popular magazines while continuing to work in Broadway musicals and supper clubs.

Her subject was the vibrant street life of New York City in the 1940s and 1950s when children would "always be running around in the open spaces in the city, playing cops and robbers and shooting each other with their fingers."

She worked in both black-and-white and color. Her Web site presents three galleries of her images. And Jessica Stewart's interview with her from last year includes many of her most popular images.

Powerhouse Books published the 144-page Vivian Cherry's New York in 2010. She also published Helluva Town: New York City in the 1940s and 50s and Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker.

The book on the social activist Day, who is in the process of canonization by the Catholic Church, included 60 of Cherry's photographs. The liner notes describe her work:

In 1955, Vivian Cherry, a documentary photographer known for her disturbing and insightful work portraying social issues, was given unprecedented access to the Catholic Worker house of hospitality in New York City, its two farms and to Day herself. While much has been written about Day, the portrait that emerges from Cherry's intimate lens is unrivaled. From the image of the line of men waiting for soup outside St. Joseph's on Chrystie Street to pictures of Day and others at work and in prayer, Cherry's photographs offer a uniquely personal and poetic glimpse into the life of the movement and its founder.

Cherry was married four times, living in New York City until 2018 when she moved to Albuquerque to be near her son Steve Schmidt. She had been working on a book project at the time of her death.

And had never stopped photographing.

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