New York, through a sharp lens

Two complementary exhibitions at the Museum of the City of New York shine a spotlight on the iconic photography of the late Fred W. McDarrah.

Those with an interest in New York history know well that any trip to the Museum of the City of New York will prove satisfying – and WAG’s most recent visit proved that once again.

Heading down to the stately Manhattan institution on a steamy day last week, we experienced not only the museum’s welcome respite from the oppressive humidity but also quite a trip back in time, thanks to a pair of exhibitions devoted to the work of Brooklyn-born photographer Fred W. McDarrah (1926-2007).

“The Voice of the Village: Fred W. McDarrah Photographs” is a tour through the city and its cultural climate from the 1960s into the early ’70s.

McDarrah was a photographer and also the first photo editor for The Village Voice, the nation’s first alternative weekly newspaper. The expansive exhibition is presented in themed sections – including “The Folk Scene,” “The Beats” and “Politics”– to facilitate the telling of the story.

Thanks to McDarrah’s sharp eye for detail, the featured photographs include candid images that touch on the arts (think Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol, for starters) to politics (anti-Vietnam protests, activist congresswoman Shirley Chisholm and a particularly moving portrait of Robert F. Kennedy touring a tenement).

But there’s plenty more, including performance shots such as rocker Janis Joplin at the Fillmore East; onetime Mayor Ed Koch and congresswoman Bella Abzug among those taking part in the 1974 St. Patrick’s Day Parade; and artists in their studios, such as Eva Hesse in 1967.

Rounding the exhibition out are McDarrah’s press passes, cameras and notebooks, along with Village Voice pages and sound installations, from readings by Jack Kerouac to music by The Velvet Underground & Nico, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan.

McDarrah’s work also takes center stage in “PRIDE: Photographs of Stonewall and Beyond.” The companion exhibition, which coincides with the 50thanniversary of the Stonewall Inn uprising in Greenwich Village, traces the start of the gay pride movement and the years that follow. It features images from the pivotal June 28, 1969 police raid of the noted destination for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender patrons through its aftermath, including the marches, parades and formation of organizations that would become synonymous with the fight for LGBTQ rights.

Particularly moving is a rainbow-hued display that anchors the gallery’s far end, which on closer inspection is actually a collection of oversize cards on which visitors have been encouraged to share their “stories of LGBTQ pride marches over the past 50 years.”

The result is a powerful collection of words that not only share but also go beyond what was asked, with one card bearing the words “Proud mom of gay teen,” while another simply states, “Love with your heart.”

“The Voice of the Village” exhibition continues through Dec. 1, while “PRIDE” concludes Dec. 31. The museum is at 1220 Fifth Ave., at 103rdStreet.

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– Mary Shustack

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