Hello. My name is Jordan Liles and this video
is all about going in-depth into the before and after photo comparisons in my short film
“New York Then and Now: A Tribute to George Bradford Brainerd (1845-1887)”. I recommend
watching the film before watching this behind the scenes video. I also created a shortened
trailer-style version called 140 Years of Change in New York that was released in April
2014. The Brooklyn Museum and Brooklyn Public Library’s Brooklyn Collection believes that
all of George Bradford Brainerd’s surviving 19th century photographs were captured between
1872 and his death in 1887. I shot all of the present day images between July 2013 and
April 2014. The first photo shows a view of a Brooklyn
street. Trolleys once turned down Hanover Place, the street that’s off camera to the
left. Today, that’s the route some city buses take. The camera is positioned just
west of the Fulton and Flatbush intersection in Brooklyn, and the camera is looking west.
This photo comparison was one of the most difficult ones to shoot. Even though you don’t
see cars in the present day photo, this is a very busy street for both cars and city
buses. I would only be able to have my camera set up for a few seconds, then I’d have
to get out of the way. I’d lose my place at trying to get the perfect angle. Lining
up the angles of the curbs and having the street perfectly leveled in the distance was
no easy task. I returned to this spot several times on my bicycle, and this was the best
I could manage. Note the second floor of the buildings in the top right of the present
day photo. Some of those existed more than a century ago. There’s also a brick building
that’s off camera to the right that is now empty. It is also very old. Also as a bonus
there’s a small alley called Grove Place that’s within a minute walking distance.
It’s one of the few accessible dead end alleys left in the city.
Moving on to the second photo, this one was shot on Clinton and Baltic somewhat near Brooklyn’s
Borough Hall. I dealt with some traffic to get this one too, moving out of the way when
cars were coming. George Brainerd looks to have shot this one using one of his detective
cameras. He created his own hidden cameras disguised as a suitcase or perhaps a book.
This allowed him to capture life without the subjects realizing they’re being photographed.
Several others in this video are also shot this way as you will notice. Note the man
off to the very left of the photograph holding a small container. Also there are what looks
to be two women on the right side walking down the street. A few other things to note
are the church steeple, the foreground shadows, the barrels in front of homes and awnings
above some windows. I returned to shoot this one in the winter since you weren’t able
to see much of the buildings with so many leaves in the spring, summer or fall.
This third photo was flipped horizontally when I first found it on the Brooklyn Museum
website. I didn’t have a church name or address, so I spent several hours looking
through Google Street View and finally found a match. Most of the changes are obvious when
you view the video, though my favorite part of the old one is the house to the left of
the church that’s no longer there. My guess is that it may have served as the church leader’s
house. I shot this one on a Sunday morning, and I had more than a few people eyeing me,
though I was able to speak with a few of them and let them know what I was doing.
For the fourth photo showing the man shoveling snow and today with the woman walking her
dog, I believe I shot this one at Clinton and Kane. I wasn’t able to definitively
find out if this is the same angle, though in doing hours of research on this one photo
I believed this to be my best guess. The man with the mustache on the right is holding
a bundle of papers perhaps. There’s a beautiful church steeple in the background and a man
with a top hat walking with at least two others into the distance. Notice that Brainerd, the
photographer, captured his photo just as the shoveler began to toss aside some snow. Also
note that the people in this shot are in motion, so he was able to instantaneously capture
a photograph with minimal blurriness using some of his own inventions. The Brooklyn Daily
Eagle regarded him as the “father of instantaneous photography”, so it’s no surprise.
For the fifth photo showing people skating on the ice and in present day the man fishing
in front of the Lullwater Bridge, this is in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. The bridge
today says “1889”, so the one you see in Brainerd’s photo from the 19th century
was the previous bridge. It’s difficult to see but you can tell that there are quite
a large number of people standing on the bridge watching the ice skaters. And off to the right
you might have noticed a child with his arms out to each side trying to keep balanced.
Here’s a bonus before and after comparison of two present day seasons at the Prospect
Park boathouse. And now the sixth photo shows Bow Bridge in
Central Park. There used to be more land to walk on over on the right hand side of the
photo, but that’s changed over time. One of the most interesting parts of this photo
is that you have waterfowl in the same spot no matter the century.
In the seventh photo, you can see part of Prospect Park that was recently reopened after
the construction of an outdoor ice skating rink. Note the fence in the present day photo
which should now be gone. Lincoln’s statue is now just off camera to the left. It’s
been moved from Grand Army Plaza to I believe the Concert Grove. Note that the Concert Grove
is on the east side of the park and is not where bands perform concerts. That separate
place is on the west side. For photo number eight with the men marching
from right to left, this spot wasn’t easy to find. The description for the photo on
the Brooklyn Museum website says that men are taking a prisoner somewhere, though we
aren’t sure who or where. Notice their long shadows in the morning light. I knew that
photographer Brainerd had shot many photos around the Borough Hall area of Brooklyn,
so in looking at the side of the building I realized that he shot this photo on the
east side, pointing north. The way I recognized which side is by studying the buildings in
the background on the right side of his photo. That row of buildings seen in the background
is now completely gone. There is some grass and stone in its place, plus a larger building
further back from the street. I’ll have more on this specific area coming up.
Photo nine shows a Chase bank building today, but it used to be Frank Bollinger’s Meat
Market. The address is 883 Flatbush Avenue. Notice today the green and yellow pawn shop
sign and how it’s a small part of the back of the building. Now look at Brainerd’s
photo and you can see that the small shop was once a tobacco store. It’s appears that
the small plot of land has been used for small shops for more than a hundred years. Also
note in the old photo there’s a church steeple on the right in the far distance.
For photo ten, this is just a few steps away from photo number eight that showed men taking
a prisoner somewhere. Brainerd and I stood on the steps to capture our photos. This might
have been one of the most confusing shots to shoot, but bear with me. There’s a fountain
in the middle of the shot that seems to have moved a few feet east between the 19th century
and today. If you click this link which is a YouTube annotation, make sure those are
on, you can see that the fountain perhaps wasn’t always centered with the building
behind it. The row of buildings on the right are the ones that were in the background of
the “taking prisoners” photograph. That row of buildings is completely gone today.
It has been replaced by the row of trees and the larger building behind that. The two streets
in the distance, one in the middle of the shot and one just to the left line up with
my new photo. The large word “Daily” on the building in the old photo may have been
for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper, which was a phenomenal resource when doing my research.
I shot my photo when it snowed. I did this to match the conditions when Brainerd shot
his photograph. With all comparisons I wanted to make sure to match up all conditions as
best as possible. One very interesting thing to note is that between the time Brainerd
shot his photograph and I shot mine, an above ground train was constructed, operated and
demolished. If you have YouTube annotations turned on, click the link to see what it once
looked like. Photo eleven shows Flatbush Town Hall at 35
Snyder Avenue. We aren’t sure who the two men are in the middle of the photograph, but
they are looking at George Brainerd. When I was taking my photo, someone was also eyeing
me. A woman was giving me dirty looks for wanting to take a photograph of the building.
Have a look at the very top of the steeple and notice that part of it has gone missing.
And a flag pole has been removed and there has been some work done on a chimney since
the 19th century as well. Photo twelve is a great one showing that George
Brainerd was able to watch as the Brooklyn Bridge was constructed over time, just as
I was able to see the new One World Trade center tower go up during my five years in
New York. Brooklyn Bridge Park didn’t exist in its current form in the 19th century. Note
the old ships in the photo as we will see them again coming up in another photo.
So after the shot of the Brooklyn Bridge fades to black, we see photo number thirteen. In
my photo of present day a mother and child are walking down the street. Notice the boarded
up building on the right and the top of the old building above the trees in the middle
background. As we dissolve to the 19th century a few things are clear. Trolleys including
one that says “Green-wood” which is a beautiful cemetery we’ll see in an upcoming
photo, a building that says “Bolles Portraits and Photography” and one in the background
that says “The Japanese Store” are all visible. The sign for “The Japanese Store”
is how I found out where this is, thanks to an old ad in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle archives
which are available online for free. The camera points toward the intersection of Fulton and
Duffield. The man off to the left is said to be a fisherman according to a photo description.
Some shadows are long here, letting us know it’s likely early morning or late afternoon.
Photo fourteen would not have been easy to find had it not been for all the research
I had been doing on all of Brainerd’s work. From my time studying his photographs, I knew
that Brainerd liked to shoot around Brooklyn’s Borough Hall. Those bright windows in the
background are Borough Hall. In Brainerd’s 19th century photo the man is shoveling coal
into a bucket, and everyone is bundled up tight so it looks to be winter. As you can
see by the long shadows, this is also early morning or late afternoon. One of the shadows
shows Brainerd with his hat on. It’s one of a few glimpses we get of his shadow in
his photography. I wonder if he would return after shooting, develop the photograph and
see his shadow. Would he be ok with it, or would he think of it as a mistake? “Oh there’s
my shadow. I didn’t see that.” Today I know I enjoy seeing it. I considered naming
this project “Photographer in the Shadows” or something similarly cool before I was able
to find three photos of him. Photo fifteen is one I did not include originally
when I released a short video and several images in April 2014. If I panned the camera
to the right, you would see Grand Army Plaza. George Brainerd’s job for several years
of his life was as a “deputy purveyor”, “civil engineer” and “surveyor”. There
are a few terms I found in old books. He wrote a book called, and this title is long so prepare:
“The water works of Brooklyn A historical and descriptive account of the construction
of the works, and the quantity, quality and cost of the supply”. Probably not the most
exciting book, but it was likely a good resource to people at the time. I visited the New York
Public Library main branch to research the book. It was an adventure unto itself giving
the librarian the locating information for the specific book. They sent the number down
many floors underground where someone retrieved it from a massive vault, and it was sent up
the mechanical elevator and delivered it to the librarian who delivered it to me. It was
not in good condition. It didn’t contain information about his life, but it did give
insight into the fact that he was very much involved in the beginning of creating water
pipe infrastructure for Brooklyn. This building in Brainerd’s photograph is now gone. There
also was once a water tower within Prospect Park, but it is now gone as well. Today this
hill is called Mount Prospect Park. In photo sixteen this is Public School Number
one in Brooklyn. Today it’s crumbling, though it does have landmark status. The location
is at 2274 Church Avenue. Notice the small tower off to the left that served as a bell
for school children. And to the right, it appear s that was once a street. It’s now
blocked off and partially taken up by a building. The way that I found this one was interesting.
In riding around the city on my bicycle and gathering other test shots and photos for
the project, I snapped a few photos of a crumbling school. When I returned home I looked on the
Brooklyn Museum website and found that George Brainerd shot a photo of the building. It
was one of those really cool ”wow” moments during the creation of this project.
Photo seventeen is just out to the side of Borough Hall, close to the spot for the taking
prisoners photo and the one I shot on the steps of the building with the fountain in
the middle. In the present day photo, the street that was once traveled by horse-drawn
trolleys is today a pedestrian promenade. Trees to the center left of my photo were
once where buildings stood. And the big building to the right that you see in the present day
photo wasn’t around in Brainerd’s days. Also notice that the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
newspaper sign is different in this one. It says “Oyster Dining” and a few other words.
The old trolley in the middle of the photo says “Prospect Park and Flatbush”. There
are several other words in these old photos that I can’t quite read, but maybe some
of you can figure a few of them out. Photo eighteen is one I’ve used as the main
comparison for this project. It’s beautiful composition in Central Park by George Brainerd.
It shows the iconic Bethesda Fountain. Everything in this one is fairly self-explanatory. Notice
that in striving for perfection in this project I shot my photo at the same time of day Brainerd
shot his, showing long shadows in sunset. You can help fund my future photography projects
by visiting jordanliles.com and purchasing a print of the Central Park transformation.
Photo nineteen. If you’ve been watching this entire video you know that I’ve mentioned
George Brainerd liked to concentrate many photos around Brooklyn’s Borough Hall. This
shows a view from behind the building along Joralemon Street. That’s Bryant & Stratton
College in the background in the middle. They have a website, but they don’t still have
the same location. That building is now gone. Off to the left is a book binding company
sign. This one looks to have possibly been shot in the morning from what we can tell
about the shadows. I believe the kids are playing a game in the back of this cart, according
to a description on the Brooklyn Museum website. Photo twenty was an adventure to capture.
In looking at Brainerd’s photo, I knew it was a view from a cemetery likely in Brooklyn,
but I didn’t know anything about Green-Wood Cemetery at the time. In the several Sunday
afternoons when I bicycled over to the cemetery, it is now one of my fondest memories from
living in New York. The grounds are around the same size as all of Prospect Park, and
the landscaping is breathtaking. Green-Wood Cemetery was and still is the place to be
buried in New York. Samuel Morse has a really grand monument in the cemetery. He, of course,
developed Morse code. That’s just one example of the historical figures who are buried there.
I locked my bike at the entrance and walked through the historic entrance. In walking
around the grounds looking for the highest view, I was able to find the location. Just
for a moment I put my equipment on the ground, looked out and I wanted to enjoy the same
view he enjoyed… but I was disappointed! It was summertime I believe and the leaves
blocked my view. So I returned in the winter to get the clearest possible conditions. And
this was the result. In looking at Brainerd’s photo, you can see the three high points of
the entrance off to the left, and there are some ships in the far distance which is one
of the coolest parts of this photo. In the photo in present day a tree has grown on the
left. Here’s a bonus view of New York just a few steps from where Brainerd shot his photograph.
I highly encourage people who live in the city or people coming to visit New York to
take an afternoon to walk the grounds of Green-Wood. It’s the most beautiful place in the entire
city and the entire time you’re surrounded by grand monuments and amazing history. Visit
the cemetery website to watch a promotional video with actor John Turturro.
Manhattan’s Canal Street is shown in photo twenty one. I used two clues to match this
one up. I noticed a curve in the road in Brainerd’s photograph. I zoomed in on his image a bit
to match with the photo I captured. Have a look at the tall, dark building on the right
hand side. It still stands today. Canal Street used to be a canal in the early 19th century,
though it was covered and completed as a street around the same time.
Photo twenty two shows a man walking up a street in Brooklyn with the Brooklyn Bridge
behind him. This is on Columbia Heights, also known as Everit Street. Today a building blocks
most of the view of the bridge. It’s sunset in Brainerd’s photo since the man’s shadow
and shadows of buildings are falling off to the right. Manhattan is off to the left out
of view. Photo twenty three is a bonus just like photo
fifteen that showed the water building and hill at Mount Prospect Park. I didn’t include
this one in the original batch in April 2014. Finding this location was another adventure.
I knew it was likely Prospect Park, but getting up high enough to take the photo was going
to prove difficult. I wasn’t going to be able to walk into the Brooklyn Public Library
and ask for roof access, so I needed to get crafty. I walked up to Mount Prospect Park,
looked around and didn’t really see a way to take the photo. Then I saw a piece of fence
that had been knocked down. So I walked right over that fence that had been knocked down
and walked in more than two feet of snow and I got to the correct place right behind the
library. In Brainerd’s photo, the area that would become Grand Army Plaza is off camera
to the right. We’re looking west. I snapped this one in winter since leaves would almost
completely cover the view at any other time of year. The main focal point when you see
the transition from new to old is the middle curve in the street path in the park. Here’s
a photo of something I found, up in this dead end area. Someone may have been sleeping up
here a few times in the past. Photo twenty four shows New York’s City
Hall. The towering Manhattan Municipal Building wasn’t built until between 1907 and 1914,
so it doesn’t appear in George Brainerd’s photograph. The very right side Barclay-Vesey
Building also doesn’t appear in the old photo as it wasn’t constructed until 1923.
Capturing my photo was likely much more difficult than Brainerd in terms of getting access.
I asked several security officers if I could step inside to take a photo for a before/after
comparison. They were nice and let me step inside just enough to get what I needed.
Photo twenty five. Just as George Brainerd was able to watch the Brooklyn Bridge rise,
I was able to see One World Trade Center rise. They’re both pictured here in my photo.
I’m speculating but with all of the sailors on all the ships, plus people on the street,
I believe this to be the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge on May 24, 1883. There appears to be
a large celebration happening in the photograph and George Brainerd died in 1887. It’s not
definite, but it is likely that this is one of the few photographs that captures the grand
opening of the bridge. Here’s a bonus photo of a sign just down the street. Cameras weren’t
exactly around in the 1600s, but it’s fairly rare to see a place in the country that’s
this historic. Photo twenty six shows a small waterfall in
Prospect Park. It’s not Binnen Falls. In fact, here’s a present day season to season
change of Binnen Falls that I shot in 2013 and 2014. The waterfall that George Brainerd
shot is a bit different. I believe it’s near the large music pagoda. If you look closely
you can see a bridge in the background of Brainerd’s photograph. This bridge is known
as Nethermead Arch, and it was recently restored as part of the Prospect Park Alliance’s
comprehensive restoration project. If you want to visit the small waterfall the coordinates
to put into Google Maps are on the screen. I was only able to locate this small waterfall
by visiting and exploring the park on my own time, and by finding out more about the bridge
that I eventually read to be the Nethermead Arch.
In photo twenty seven, this is the same location in Central Park as photo eighteen, and it
was likely captured on the same afternoon. I believe this to be true because of the shadow
similarity. It’s near sunset. Notice that you are unable to see any towering buildings
in the late 19th century from inside Central Park. For example, the world’s first ten
story building was built between 1884 and 1885 in Chicago. The tallest building in New
York City from 1854-1890 was Trinity Church at 79 Broadway, so that kind of gives an idea
that before George Brainerd passed away in 1887, the area’s parks were really a true
breathing space for the city. And photo twenty eight shows the area we now
know as Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn. Brainerd actually shot his photograph from the opposite
side. I took the liberty of mirroring his image for the purpose of my video, and made
sure to note this fact on my website. You can view the original image on the Brooklyn
Museum website. Here you can see several church steeples in the distance. And if you look
close enough, that’s the Brooklyn Bridge. We’re not sure if it’s before or after
1883 when the bridge opened, but that is the bridge in the background. It may be under
construction at the time George Brainerd shot his photograph. When I first saw this photo
I thought it would be too difficult to reshoot from such a high angle. How did I do it? I’ll
keep this one a secret. I’ll give one hint and say I wasn’t on a rooftop, nor was I
standing on a hill or flying a toy helicopter to get this photo. I also didn’t hold a
long pole high in the sky. Let’s call it magic. I was fairly surprised when I arrived
and realized the photo could be taken with relative ease.
After the before and after photos, you get to see three photos of George Brainerd. The
first shows him enjoying lunch, the second with him in his elaborate study and the third
with him on the steps of a building with friends. And in the third photo, there looks to be
a piece of his equipment next to him. We aren’t sure who’s taking the photo, but in all
of my research I believe he is the man on the right hand side. I extend my thanks to
Julie C. Moffat and the Brooklyn Public Library for the first two photos, and the Brooklyn
Museum for the third one. And now you see several additional still photos.
The first photo shows four men in the Register’s Office in City Hall, shot in 1875. It’s
unique in that it was taken indoors by means of artificial light. This was not a common
practice in the 1870s, and it shows his early interest in technical experimentation. I’m
not sure who the man is with the small case next to the elephants, but it could be a friend
with a hidden camera. The third photo here shows a family enjoying the beach on a nice
day. The wide monster of a building after that is one of the first post office buildings
in New York. Today that’s where City Hall Park resides. A man is selling grapes in the
next photo and I like the depth of field with the focus on the foreground. And finally,
one photo I’d love to have a before and after comparison of, but I wasn’t about
to climb to the top of the Brooklyn Bridge to get up there. I cleaned up some damage
to the photo, so for artistic purposes please visit the Brooklyn Museum website to look
at the original. The photo shows Brooklyn, and you can see on the left side the American
Sugar-Refining Company, better known as the Domino Sugar Refinery.
The final photo is one of George Brainerd shot in a portrait studio. I thank the Theta
Xi fraternity, one that Brainerd helped found, for access to the photo.
This project was made in the memory of George Bradford Brainerd, a pioneer in the field
of photography. I decided to go with before and after photography to draw interest to
the subject. I hope all of you enjoy his work and my project in dedication to him. You can
subscribe to me here on YouTube. You can also find me on Facebook at facebook.com/JordanLilesPhotography.
On Twitter @treein303 and Instagram with the username jordanliles. And visit jordanliles.com
for more on this project, and to watch my other films including three exploration films.
I encourage everyone to explore George Bradford Brainerd’s entire photography collection