Dubin at Work is a such a strange and unexpected set of photos, I almost don’t believe they exist. Harry Dubin took his teenage son around the streets of 1940s New York to take pictures of people working. Only, they didn’t photograph the workers. Instead, Dubin asked the workers if they’d be willing to lend him their uniforms and then posed as the workers. There’s Harry Dubin as a street sweeper, then as a hansom cab driver, then as a blind beggar on the street, then as a railroad worker. In each photo, he’s fully transformed as the worker and the results are a beautiful artifact of a time gone by.
The photos, 30 in all, are finding their way online by way of Jeff Kisseloff, a historian and writer, who met Dubin while researching a book on television. Dubin was the subject of a 10-page New Yorker profile (PDF) in 1947 (well worth a read) as one of the first families in the city to own a television set. Kisseloff was intrigued by the article and on a whim decided to look for Dubin in the NYC phonebook, thinking he might still be alive. Dubin agreed to an interview. When Kisseloff arrived for the interview, Dubin asked if he could reread the New Yorker piece and handed Kisseloff a small photo album titled “Dubin at Work” to look through while he waited. That happenstance turned into a 1996 special exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York. Kisseloff also wrote an article about the photos for American Heritage (PDF).