By Ginny A. Roth
The Charles R. Lachman Community Health Center at Lenox Hill Hospital was officially dedicated on September 20, 1966. During the ceremony a photograph album was presented to Mr. Lachman containing 32 black and white photographs providing a visual tour of Lenox Hill Hospital’s modernization, including the community center’s building progress, and before and after pictures of Lenox Hill Hospital’s many upgraded facilities, equipment, and wards. The album was also significant for showcasing the photographs of an early fine art medical photographer, Dionora Niccolini, who would eventually found the hospital’s medical photography department where the album was created.
Today this unique album resides in the National Library of Medicine’s historical prints and photographs collection.
The Lenox Hill Hospital, located on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, has a nearly 160 year history of providing healthcare, and serves as a teaching hospital for The Zucker School of Medicine Hofstra/Northwell (known as the “Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine” up until August 2017). The hospital was founded in lower Manhattan as the “German Dispensary” in 1857. Its name was derived from the fact that the majority of patients the hospital served lived in a nearby immigrant neighborhood in the Lower East Side of Manhattan called “Little Germany.” Due to the rapid increase of patients, the hospital moved several times and finally settled in its current location in 1905. The name of the hospital changed to “Lenox Hill” in 1918, the name of the Upper East Side neighborhood in which the hospital resides, in order to distance itself from Germany during World War I.
Over the next several decades, the hospital continued to make advancements to the facilities and to the healthcare offered to patients. In 1933 the hospital established a maternity service, opened a cancer clinic, and made final preparations for the debut of its heart clinic. Lenox Hill opened one of the first intensive care units in Manhattan in 1957, followed 10 years later by the city’s first cardiac care unit.
The photograph album captures the development and modernization of Lenox Hill Hospital up to 1966. Provided here are several “before and after” photographs of some of the Lenox Hill facilities.
A majority of the album’s photographs are uncredited. Eleven are credited to Irving Kaufman Studios, New York City, and 1 image is credited to Hutchins Photography, Inc., Belmont Massachusetts. Three images are credited to Dianora Niccolini:
Niccolini was born in Italy, but moved to the United States with her American-born parents when she was 8 years old. After moving to New York City when she was 18 she studied photography, and later became chief medical photographer at the Manhattan Eye, Ear & Throat Hospital. She also specialized in male nude photography, creating photographs that would earn her praise from art critics as well as a place in the male-dominated profession of photography in New York City.
In the 1980s, Niccolini co-founded and served as the first president of Professional Women Photographers (PWP), a nonprofit devoted to the advancement of female photographers. In her member profile, she describes her experiences as a photographer in New York City:
“My life as a photographer began in the early sixties. I landed my first job as a medical photographer almost at the same time that I met the world renowned photographer, Arthur Fellig. Weegee, as he was called…. I am now a fine art photographer and considered by many to be the female pioneer of the male nude in photography.
“By 1984, my career as a medical photographer had come to an end . It was then that I decided to go into a completely different direction. I opened up a portrait studio on 32nd. St. in NYC. My male nude photographs not only influenced Mapplethorpe but probably paved the way for the scantly clad male models in commercial advertising and the Calvin Klein avant-guard brief ads of the 80’s.”
Niccolini was widely praised for her photographic talent. Gene Thornton, an art critic for the New York Times reviewed her work and concluded that Niccolini “come[s] about as close to idealization as is possible in photography […] The result is a general statement about the essential beauty and goodness of humanity […]”
Today, Lenox Hill Hospital treats over 325,000 patients each year, and is still well-known for its inpatient medical, surgical, obstetric, pediatric, and psychiatric services.
Ginny A. Roth is the Curator of Prints & Photographs in the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine.