If the BSA is Global, why the “Brooklyn” Stereoscopic Association?

Header for Why Brooklyn

The most frequent question that has arisen since the founding of the Brooklyn Stereoscopic Association is, basically, the title of this blog post. If the BSA is a global, online-only entity, why use “Brooklyn” in the title? There are several reasons for this, and as the only Founding Member living in Brooklyn, as well as the person who came up with the name, I reckon I’m best positioned to answer them. First, however, a little stereography – we can’t stray too far from our primary focus, right?

The Williamsburg Savings Bank, once the tallest structure in Brooklyn.
When I moved to Brooklyn, this was still the tallest building in the Borough. Now, it is the NINTH tallest. The times sure do change, and the skyline is ever filling up with towers nowhere near as elegant as this one!

Brooklyn as a Metaphor

Although Brooklyn is a part of NYC, when people who are not City dwellers think “New York City”, they’re generally thinking of Manhattan. This is not by accident; Manhattan has always been the centralized power center of the city. It is embedded in the cultural lexicon, from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” to “Midnight Cowboy”. Mail sent to Brooklyn residents goes to “Brooklyn, NY”; mail sent to Manhattan goes to “New York, NY”. Such is the omnipresence of the conflation of Manhattan with New York City.

Imagine NYC as a family. The metaphor becomes thus: Manhattan is the star athlete-and-pupil older brother. Brooklyn is the weird, outsider artist of a younger sister, who garners little mention in the annual Christmas Letter. Manhattan is the powerful uncle, unapproachable and strictly by-the-book. Brooklyn is the hippie aunt, who knits her own socks, and is happy to chatter the night away over a hand-rolled “jazz cigarette”, caring little for creature comforts

My wife and I, personally, don’t travel into Manhattan but when we need to, for concerts, museums, the opera, and so on. We try to spend our money in Brooklyn, at small businesses, where it is most needed. Manhattan is also the pretentious cousin, steeped in holier-than-thou trappings, and constantly putting on a show for tourists to fawn over. Brooklyn doesn’t give a damn what others think of her – she’s Brooklyn, regarded as B-list by the snooty older brother, but with a big heart and open arms. If you love Brooklyn, Brooklyn is quick to love you back.

The elevated line which used to run along Fulton St. in Brooklyn.
Sadly, the elevated trains which dotted the City are now mostly memories of a long-past age. Thankfully, Tru Vue was on hand to capture them c. 1933.

Brooklyn in Reality

The truth of the matter is that Brooklyn is the first choice of many of those that don’t find themselves among the elite. My wife and I – she a highly-regarded archivist, myself a freelance photographer and archivist-for-hire – are basically priced out of Manhattan. We looked at Harlem, a neighborhood we both adore, but couldn’t afford a single flat that was on the market. We could get a studio up above 145th street, but a studio can’t hold our weird collections of this and that. Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx were the only real options, but as I’d lived in Brooklyn for most of my adult life prior to meeting her, I put my thumb heavily on the scale for my beloved Borough.

We live in Crown Heights, a lovely neighborhood that spans the gamut from Brooklyn Brownstones to pre-war rowhouses to NYCHA public housing towers. It is a diverse neighborhood – and a friendly one. As long as you arrive in our nabe with the requisite respect, most everybody in Crown Heights will return that respect. In a neighborhood where women are the heads of household, and gentlemen still give up their seats to ladies, the elderly, and the infirm, respect is assumed and expected. So it is with the BSA.

The Brooklyn Grain Elevators in Red Hook.
Believe it or not, while these grain elevators are now abandoned, Brooklyn still has plenty of industrial sites! Go try to find 5 in Manhattan – and best of luck to you.

But still, why not “Global”?

We are absolutely a global organization. However, I think it would have been an act of haughtiness on our part to call ourselves the “International…”, “Global…”, “World..”, or anything similar “…Stereoscopic Association”. These sorts of usages convey a sort of authority which we neither have, nor want. Think: The International Criminal Court at The Hague. The World Health Organization, whose authority is recognized by most world leaders who are not orange-tinted American presidents during this global pandemic.

It sends the wrong message to suggest that our global club has any sort of global authority over anything – our Leadership consists of a group of three friends with a vision. The vision is one of overwhelming inclusiveness, much like the feeling I get on the streets of Crown Heights. We’re not looking to be “the best”, or “the most glorious”, but if we succeed in our mission by helping out and doing for each other, as is customary in the neighborhood from which I type this, then we will feel successful.

The Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument, which I used to visit frequently when I lived for a few years in Bed-Stuy.

A Personal Anecdote

When I moved into my first flat in Weeksville, a historically Black subsection of Crown Heights, I was surprised to find myself the only white guy on the block. Acutely aware that I had to take pains to avoid being perceived as a gentrifying force, I actively sought to assimilate myself into the culture, rather than expecting it to bend to my expectations. The following week, I dragged my tired bum out of bed before 9 AM to participate in the annual cleanup of the fallen leaves from the Gingko trees gifted to the neighborhood by the Japanese government. I met my neighbors, and took instruction from the women running the cleanup. By noon, I was chatting with neighbors while sipping on hot apple cider and snacking on donuts. The following month, I was on the Block Association, and was frequently stopped for chats in the street, or a lemonade on a porch in the summer months. I learned the history of my neighborhood, and was very sad to be priced out when I broke up with my partner some time later.

By the same token, I personally would love it if that spirit of finding common ground were the keystone of the Association. That’s why I floated the name Brooklyn Stereoscopic Association. I want Brooklyn’s spirit of inclusiveness and acceptance to be pervasive in our club, as I’m quite sure our other Founding Members do. Everybody who shows up to our meetings – no matter your age, sex, gender, skin color, sexuality, or anything else – is welcome. No prior 3D knowledge is needed – just the hunger to gain such knowledge, and to pass it on when possible. This is the Brooklyn spirit, and this is why we’re the Brooklyn Stereoscopic Association.

I often say that Olmsted and Vaux practiced their craft on Central Park in Manhattan, but finally perfected it with Prospect Park, a short walk from our flat.

An Endnote on the Stereoviews

The stereoviews shown in this post are from two extremely rare Tru Vue filmstrips, “Brooklyn I” and “Brooklyn II” (from the boxes). They were taken during or before 1933, and provide an invaluable resource for stereo photography in the gap between card stereography’s decline, and ViewMaster’s ascension. The complete sets from both filmstrips (including anaglyphs) can be viewed on my personal blog; part 1 is here, and part 2 is here.

Published by Ian Ference

I am a freelance photographer, as well as a preservation archivist specialized in cleaning and scanning late-19th and early-20th century glass plates. I have enjoyed viewing stereoviews for over 30 years - and have been a serious collector for 11. My primary interest is in Great War stereoviews, and I am currently the steward of the Boyd/Jordan Collection.

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