Dorer Photographs Memorialized in Cunningham Book
Harry C. Dorer saw everything, or rather his camera saw everything there was to see about New Jersey and recorded it all for inclusion in The Newark Sunday Call, a precursor to The Star-Ledger.
Those photographs, part of The Newark Public Library’s New Jersey collection, were publicly displayed in the galleries of the Main Library on Washington Street for the first time in November 2005. Now the pictures have been edited into a book, This Was New Jersey, by John T. Cunningham, the state’s most noted historian and Dorer’s former colleague. The publisher is Rutgers University Press.
Cunningham, a former Newark Evening News reporter, producer and author of dozens of New Jersey-centric documentaries, books and articles, launches This Was New Jersey on May 22 at a book sale and signing, 12:00 to 2:00 p.m., at the Main Library, 5 Washington Street. Proceeds of the sale will benefit the Library’s Robert Treat Endowment.
"The Library is so proud of its extensive New Jersey collection, and we’re delighted to organize public exhibits to display these artifacts. We’re even happier when our collections find a greater audience through the publication of a book," said Library Director Wilma J. Grey.
"This book is especially significant as it reflects the last work of our beloved colleague and late Newark historian, Assistant Library Director Charles Cummings, who organized the exhibit with John Cunningham. Unfortunately, Charles passed away about a month after the exhibit opened," Grey said. "The two men had collaborated extensively on the project and were planning to edit this book together."
In an interview, Cunningham described Dorer as the quintessential city slicker, the image of the 1930’s press photographer, never without his snap-brim fedora and a heavy dark overcoat. But Dorer was surprisingly comfortable and familiar with the country, at least the New Jersey countryside.
In his travels around New Jersey, Dorer wielded his boxy Speed Graphic camera like an artist a brush, capturing for the weekly Sunday Newark Call the images of a state that has now vanished. During his working life, from 1920 to 1954 when he retired, Dorer amassed hundreds of images of the state; snapping pictures of everything from inner-city children taking an illicit dip in Newark’s Wars of America fountain in Military Park to children of the Pine Barrens, posing alongside their cabins with their families.
"He was easy to get along with," Cunningham told the New York Times. His former colleague, he said, knew every road in the state and the name of every cow in Sussex County. Asked if Mr. Dorer was ever self-consciously artistic, Mr. Cunningham said, "He never had a picture printed that didn't have clouds in it. And with lens filters and processing techniques, he made the skies the way he wanted them to be rather than the way God wanted them. It was something that took him beyond the straight news."
Cunningham has selected more than 300 of Dorer’s photographs for This Was New Jersey, and has created a visual record of the state’s history that is at once unsettling, shocking, enchanting, and endearing. They are a vivid visual reminder of how much New Jersey changed in the 20th century.
Cunningham is not only a historian, but writes about the state’s ecological wonders, from the Great Swamp to birding at Cape May Point. He has been honored by The New Jersey Audubon Society and The Great Swamp Watershed Association. His first book, This Is New Jersey, published in 1953, has never gone out of print, although it has been revised four times and is now in the process of being revised for a record fifth time.
His twenty-plus documentary films include several in the New Jersey Historical Commission’s series on historical New Jersey, in which he has acted as host. In 1986 he was awarded a television Emmy for his documentary film, Dreams of Distant Shores. Cunningham was one of the founders of the New Jersey Historical Commission and founding president of the Friends of the Newark Public Library.
For more information please call 973-733-7793, or to inquire about the book, This Was New Jersey, please contact Jeremy Wang-Iverson at Rutgers University Press, 732-445-7762 x626.
©2007 The Newark Public Library