From 1906 to 1934, Eugene de Salignac shot over twenty thousand 8-by-10-inch glass-plate negatives of New York City. As sole photographer at the Department of Bridges/Plant and Structures during that period of dizzying growth, he masterfully documented the creation of the city's modern infrastructure-bridges, major municipal buildings, roads, and subways. His work is a testament to the emergence of the modern city, its architecture and infrastructure, and those who built it.
The Brooklyn Bridge would be a continual source of inspiration to de Salignac and a constant presence in his work. On September 22, 1914, he photographed a group of painters at work on its lower trusses. He must have had a spark of inspiration that day; two weeks later he returned and posed the men on the web of wires like notes on a musical scale, the result of which can be seen in this photograph. The image was obviously planned, as evidenced by the relaxed nature of these fearless men who appear without their equipment and are joined, uncustomarily, by their supervisor. No vintage print of this iconic photo—the most famous of de Salignac's images—is known to exist.
For years these remarkably lyrical photographs have been used in books and films, but never credited to de Salignac. The monograph New York Rises (copublished by Aperture and the New York City Department of Records/Municipal Archives, 2007) sets the record straight, and presents them for the first time as an aesthetically coherent oeuvre by a photographer with a unique vision.
Eugene de Salignac (born in Boston, 1861; died 1943) was a self-trained American photographer born into an eccentric family of exiled French nobility. He began as an assistant in the Department of Bridges in 1903, and from 1906 to 1934 was the sole photographer working for the department.