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Browning photograph collection

Call Number

PR 9


1918-1952 (bulk, 1920-1938), inclusive


Browning, Irving, 1895-1961
Irving Browning Studio


7 Linear feet (27 boxes)

Language of Materials

This collection is primarily visual. Any text is likely to be in English.


The Browning Collection consists primarily of photographs of interiors and exteriors of 1920s and 1930s New York buildings, including art deco theaters, hotels, skyscrapers, suburban residences, shops, and institutions. Also captured are Manhattan shoppers and window displays, Lower East Side peddlers, advertising sandwich boards, roof tops, Great Depression shanty towns and street life, dramatic skylines, night views, weather, sports, many types of transportation, and photomontages. Documents and ephemera in the collection relate to Irving Browning's professional career as a photographer and cinematographer.

The Browning Photograph Collection is digitized and available in the Shelby White and Leon Levy Digital Library.

Biographical Note

Irving Browning (1895-1961), a self-taught photographer and cinematographer, was born in New York City. Browning opened a commercial photograph studio at 110 West 40th Street in 1922 or 1923; his younger brother, Sam, occasionally worked with him as a photographer. A former silent film actor and comedian of the 1910s, New Yorker Irving Browning photographed both exteriors and interiors of skyscrapers, art deco theaters, hotels, apartment buildings, and suburban residences, and documented the lifestyles of New Yorkers during the 1920s and 1930s.

The Irving Browning Studio received commissions from architectural firms, advertising agencies, and magazines to photographically illustrate both the realistic and idealistic urban environment of Depression-era New York City. As construction in Manhattan flourished despite the Depression, Browning was hired to document such new architectural landmarks as the Chrysler Building, the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, the RKO Roxy and Earl Carroll theaters, and the towering Empire State Building.

Through both his professional and personal work, Browning also captured some of the more intimate daily experiences of city residents. Many of his photographs from the 1930s meditate on the contrasts of poverty and wealth; they focus on poor Lower East Side peddlers, former businessmen selling apples in the aftermath of the stock market crash, and shantytowns as well as on such things as well-heeled shoppers perusing fashionable window displays and the leisure activities and lifestyles of the wealthy.

Browning was an innovator who took an avid interest in the technical aspects of photography. His correspondence hints at his interest in the evolution of color film, in advances in motion picture technologies, and in expanding the ability of still photographs to communicate. Browning's creative and sometimes frenetic photomontages were popular among magazine advertising clients. His novel circular reflection, bas-relief, and expansive architectural views graced the pages of The New York Times. Browning's technical interests also extended to the history of photography and cinematography. He amassed a large collection of vintage cameras, projectors, lenses, stereoscopic viewers, and motion picture equipment. Browning lectured on and exhibited his collection at colleges, schools, and professional organizations throughout the New York area.

In later years, Browning focused his career on creating motion pictures. He worked in a variety of capacities in the film industry, from his early work as an actor to his later work in the 1930s and 1940s as a director, producer, and cameraman. A few of his short films gained a measure of notice, including the documentary City of Contrasts (1931), and the short biopic Women in Photography (1941) which focused on the careers of Ruth Alexander Nichols, Toni Frissel, Bernice Abbott, and Margaret Bourke-White.

Browning was a member of a number of professional organizations, including the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, the American Television Society, and the Master Photo Dealers' & Finishers' Association. His photographs were exhibited jointly with such well-regarded contemporaries as Margaret Bourke-White, Ralph Steiner, and Bernice Abbott. By 1940, Browning had founded and was serving as president of the Camera Mart, Inc., a photographic and motion picture equipment store which he owned until his death in 1961.


Materials are organized in two series:

Series I. Photographs
Series II. Documents

Scope and Contents

The Browning Photograph Collection spans the period from 1918 to 1952 and primarily contains photographs depicting exteriors and interiors of new buildings in and around New York City in the 1920s and 1930s. Photographers Irving and Sam Browning photographed theaters, hotels, skyscrapers, suburban residences, shoppers, peddlers, Great Depression shanty towns, weather and night views, and Manhattan street life. Also included is a disbound scrapbook created by Irving Browning containing career-related documents and ephemera. The collection is divided into two series: Photographs; and Documents.

Access Restrictions

Materials in this collection may be stored offsite. For more information on making arrangements to consult them, please visit

Use Restrictions

Taking images of documents from the library collections for reference purposes by using hand-held cameras and in accordance with the library's photography guidelines is encouraged. As an alternative, patrons may request up to 20 images per day from staff.

Application to use images from this collection for publication should be made in writing to: Department of Rights and Reproductions, The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024-5194, Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282.

Copyrights and other proprietary rights may subsist in individuals and entities other than the New-York Historical Society, in which case the patron is responsible for securing permission from those parties. For fuller information about rights and reproductions from N-YHS visit:

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as Browning Photograph Collection, PR 9, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, The New-York Historical Society.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Irving Browning in the name of Irving and the late Sam Browning, July 29, 1959.

Related Materials

Scrapbook 11-C in the Bella C. Landauer Collection of Business and Advertising Ephemera in the Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections of The New-York Historical Society contains some of Irving Browning's identification and membership cards for professional organizations and conferences.

Collection processed by

Jennifer Lewis

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-21 15:50:16 -0400.
Language: Description is in English.

Edition of this Guide

This version was derived from browning.xml


New-York Historical Society
New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024