The Otto F. Hess photographs consist primarily of images shot by the creator over the course of his career (1936-1961; bulk 1936-1949). The photographs depict cultural life of New York City between the 1930s and 1940s, and especially the midtown jazz music scene. The collection includes photographic prints, and negatives, as well as Hess' handwritten notebook inventory of the collection.
Biographical/historical: Born in Karlsruhe, Baden, Germany, Otto Friedrich Hess (1906-1968) immigrated to the United States in 1930 from Bremerhaven, Germany. Upon reaching New York City, the twenty-three year old German émigré moved in with his brother Franz, an advertising photographer, in Brooklyn. Hess's initial occupation was in sales, but during this time he was honing his photography skills so that by 1940, photography had become his primary source of income. Starting in 1942, he spent several years in the U.S. Army. Upon return from the Army, Hess began exhibiting his work, including at galleries such as the Norlyst Gallery.
Content: The Otto Hess photographs depict various facets of New York City cultural life in the 1930s and 1940s including musical and theatrical performances, weddings, and sporting events.
The bulk of the collection documents jazz performers in New York City from roughly 1937-1947. Musicians include Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Sidney Bechet, Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, W.C. Handy, Count Basie, Charlie Christian, Eddie Condon, and Dizzy Gillespie. Also included are photographs of classical and popular musicians, actors, dancers, and athletes at venues including the Hippodrome, Central Plaza, the Savoy Ballroom, the Apollo, and Town Hall. A small section of images depict Coney Island, the 1939 World's Fair, and in the Army barracks.
The collection also includes contact sheets created by the Music Division of Hess's negatives. The contact sheets likely were created in the early 1970s.