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Truman Capote’s Brooklyn: The Lost Photographs of David Attie

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Truman Capote’s Brooklyn: The Lost Photographs of David Attie

In 1957, photographer David Attie caught his big break illustrating Truman Capote’s iconic novella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Hired by Alexey Brodovitch, the famed Harper’s Bazaar art director and mentor to Richard Avedon, Irving Penn and others, Attie was selected because of his signature montage style of photography. Attie’s process involved the layering of negatives on top of each other, creating prints with a moody sensibility.

The following year, Attie’s next assignment for Harper’s was a walk with Capote through Brooklyn Heights and along the Brooklyn Waterfront to capture images of the writer’s life in the borough.

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Original print by David Attie.

Now on view at the Brooklyn Historical Society, Truman Capote’s Brooklyn: The Lost Photographs of David Attiefeatures a treasure trove of images from that walk, along with contact sheets and assorted memorabilia.

Selected from approximately 800 negatives shot on a Rolleiflex camera, some of the images are also part of the 2015 publication, Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir: With the lost photographs of David Attie, by Truman Capote.

The work reveals a Brooklyn that is both familiar and distant. Teenage boys swimming in the East River along the Brooklyn waterfront in a neighborhood that is now gentrified show a carefree sense of play against the backdrop of a dauntingly serious Manhattan skyline. The image clearly tells the story that something else is going on here on this side of the river.

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Exhibition photo credit: Anders Jones.

A Capote quote from his book displayed in exhibition wall text reads, “Often weeks pass without my ‘going to town’, or ‘crossing the bridge’, as neighbors call a trip to Manhattan. Mystified friends, suspecting provincial stagnation inquire: ‘But what do you do over there?’”

Much of the work on view reveals a gentle documentary style that is vibrant, capturing the familiar rhythm of daily life unique to Capote’s corner of Brooklyn. Attie, a native of Brooklyn, seems to easily blend in with the energy of his surroundings.

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Exhibition photo credit: Anders Jones.

In one image, on what looks like a warm sunny day, a woman in a heavy calf length coat is pictured mid-pose walking three small dogs. The dogs appear to be caught in a complicated dance as their stern taskmaster teacher looks on pulling their leash, training them to perfection. The scene is somewhat operatic in its dramatic juxtaposition of three dancing dogs, a lady in a coat, an empty lot with flowing white laundry in the distance, a treeless bland streetscape, and in the farthest distance of the frame, a hand painted advertisement that partially reads, “Peace & Prosperity, Ike & Dick…”

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Original print by David Attie.

Collectively, the photographs on view offer an intriguing look into a particular neighborhood and period in Brooklyn that may leave viewers hoping for a chance to see Attie’s entire archive. A copy of the book is available for perusal in the exhibition space, while Capote’s words fill out the experience of Attie’s black and white photographs in full-blown color.

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Exhibition photo credits: Anders Jones.

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