The Urban Lens: 1940-50s Coney Island through the eyes of teenager Harold Feinstein
Born and raised in Coney Island, there was never a photographer better primed to capture the neighborhood’s vibrancy than Harold Feinstein. “I like to think I fell out of the womb on to the fun park’s giant Parachute Jump while eating a Nathan’s hot dog,” he told The Guardian in 2014, just before his passing in 2015. Indeed, Feinstein would take his first photo (using a Rolleiflex borrowed from a neighbor) at age 15 in 1946, beginning what would become an unwavering love affair with documenting the whizz, whirl and insatiable life that permeated his beachside locale. Although Feinstein would eventually move on to other subjects in various parts of New York City and the globe, over his nearly 70-year career he would always return to Coney Island for inspiration. “Coney Island was my Treasure Island,” he said.
Feinstein’s Coney Island photos cover more than five decades, but ultimately his 1940s and 1950s snapshots–those taken when he was just a teenager–would cement his status as one of the most important photographers recording life in post-war America. Ahead, the Harold Feinstein Photography Trust shares highlights from this collection.
“In those days, you didn’t really see people taking photographs,” Feinstein told The Guardian. “I remember these kids calling out: ‘Hey, mister – take our picture!’ I was never one to refuse. When people yell something like that, they usually make the picture just by wanting it.”
“I loved riding the Cyclone rollercoaster. I’d get a seat right at the front. Then I’d stand up while going down the steepest drop, turn round, and shoot whoever was behind me screaming.”
“There were so many things to shoot, the question was not how to take a good picture but how not to miss one,” he said. “You had Italians, Puerto Ricans, people from all over the world, and you didn’t have to pay to go there—it was truly a people’s place.”
Two Men and a Boy Contemplate, 1950
Explore more in our gallery below.
- Before Nathan’s There Was Feltman’s: The History of the Coney Island Hot Dog
- 50 Years Ago, Donald Trump’s Father Demolished Coney Island’s Beloved Steeplechase Park
- VIDEO: Travel Back to Coney Island’s Summer Heyday in the 1940s
All photos © 1946-2017 Harold Feinstein courtesy of the Harold Feinstein Photography Trust