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1950s Street Photographer's Queens Photos to Exhibit at Flushing Town Hall

By Katie Honan | June 23, 2017 4:20pm | Updated on June 26, 2017 8:40am
 Kissena Park in the snow in the 1950s.
Kissena Park in the snow in the 1950s.
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Frank Oscar Larson

FLUSHING — Soren Larson doesn't have any memories of his grandfather, who died when he was 3 1/2 years old.

But as he's taken on a project to scan thousands of his grandfather's photos — depicting street photography of 1950s Queens that are about to go on display at Flushing Town Hall — he's come to understand him better, he said. 

Frank Oscar Larson was a first-generation Swedish immigrant who fought during World War I. After the war, he began working as a banker at Empire Trust Company, working his way up to vice president.

"I remember my father speaking very warmly about him as a nice man and a great father," the younger Larson, 56, said.

In his free time, his grandfather was a photographer — taking photos in Coney Island, Chinatown and near his family home in Flushing. He was a member of neighborhood camera clubs, where he entered photos into local contests.

While the elder Larson took family photos, he mostly kept the negatives from his personal work in envelopes packed up in his house.

Decades after he died, Larson's mother found a box of thousands of his negatives. Out of curiosity, the younger Larson started scanning a few — revealing his grandfather's particular eye and storytelling told over thousands of photos.

"I just wanted family photos," he said. "Then I started going through them and looking at them and scanning them and one after the other — great pictures of New York popped up."

He bought a scanner and began transferring the thousands of photos on his own, making a website for his grandfather to show off his work.

By seeing each photo, he developed a deeper understanding of the man he barely knew.

"I think you get a kind of a sense of him through the photos," he said. "The accumulation of images, you get a feel for what he was like — his sympathy for people, his human understanding, his curiosity."

A collection of the photos — which also include shots of around NYC — first went on display at an exhibit in Los Angeles in 2011.

The Flushing Town Hall display, which was curated with help from the Queens Historical Society, has a particular focus on images from his home borough.

There are photos from Kissena Park after a snowfall alongside shots of Times Square and other Manhattan streets. 

"I'm really happy, it's Flushing, it's where my grandfather lived from 1920 until 1960," he said. "It feels really nice to have this homecoming."