Alex Fialho: Like many New Yorkers, Rudy Burckhardt came here from somewhere else. He immigrated from Switzerland in 1935.
Artist, Rudy Burckhardt: Yeah, I came here in the Depression and I was very lucky. I had some money that I had inherited so I didn’t need to get a job. I could just play around and do what I felt like. Other people were sleeping in the doorways and on newspapers and things.
Alex Fialho: He spent his time exploring the city with his camera. Here’s MoMA curator Sarah Meister with more of the story:
Curator, Sarah Meister: He describes being overwhelmed by the scale and the bustle and the pace of the city. He would venture out to Astoria, Queens, which allowed him to finally pick his camera up, and start looking at the urban spaces around him.
There was an expansiveness, and an emptiness to it. There is an affection for the kind of overlooked, untended aspects of the borough. It also comes forward in the pictures of the children who are making up their own games on those piles of dirt. You get the sense that what appeals to Burkhardt about Queens is this unheroic element of what the city could still mean in 1940.
Rudy Burckhardt: The fact that it always changes makes it very New York. If it stayed the same it wouldn’t be New York.