Brutal New York
May 26, 2008 7:40 PM   Subscribe

I've only ever seen 70 & 80's era New York in movies and I've never really thought about their source of inspiration. Until I saw this.(a few graphic photos on that last link)
posted by concreteforest (55 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite

 
What incredible photographs, filled with so many stories. Thank you for this.
posted by TheWaves at 7:50 PM on May 26, 2008


All those images on the last link are hotlinked from Jacob Holdt's photo gallery, which features some downright stunning work.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 7:52 PM on May 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


The Jacob Holdt site is indeed stunning. There is a lot of material there. Bookmarked for later perusal.
posted by tellurian at 7:57 PM on May 26, 2008


"The Bronx is burning."
posted by ericb at 8:00 PM on May 26, 2008


So absorbing. I have filed the thread away in my photo reference file for comic book art.
posted by autodidact at 8:03 PM on May 26, 2008


Those are some amazing pictures of normal life for them. All of those Crack is Wack signs remind me of Keith Harings Crack is Wack sign.
posted by lilkeith07 at 8:08 PM on May 26, 2008


"Down in the courtyard there was a three-foot pile of garbage people had thrown out of their windows. "

. . .

"The crime of the poor - like the exploitation by the rich - is almost impossible to photograph."

or even accurately conceptualize what this exploitation actually is. After all, in CNBC-flavored Free Market Capitalism, where is the victimization . . . we have owners of property on one hand, and we have non-owners, who wish to live on that property. Where is the exploitation?

I was unable to answer this question until I discovered the book Progress & Poverty six-odd years ago. Ironically, Henry George, its author, ran for mayor of NYC 100 years ago & narrowly lost but had he been elected Harlem & the Bronx would not have become the corpses they did.
posted by tachikaze at 8:12 PM on May 26, 2008


Very cool post, concreteforest. And thanks for the Jacob Holdt link, beaucoupkevin. I'm definitely bookmarking it for leisurely viewing later.
posted by amyms at 8:13 PM on May 26, 2008


a bit theatrical for my taste. and exploitative.
posted by billybobtoo at 8:16 PM on May 26, 2008


Funny, I was thinking more along the lines of eye-opening, haunting, things like that.
posted by zhivota at 8:22 PM on May 26, 2008


These pictures capture something I remember very well, but is now too easy to forgot existed. Some of the details in these are so immediate and so particular...If one can be nostalgic for a time in many ways so horrible, these pictures illicit that.
posted by beingdaddy at 8:34 PM on May 26, 2008


and exploitative
Ha! A less exploitative person you'd be hard put to find
posted by tellurian at 8:38 PM on May 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


ericb: ""The Bronx is burning.""

Apparently 75% of notable Bronx residents are rappers.
posted by stbalbach at 9:02 PM on May 26, 2008


autodidact - Just forwarded the link to a guy for that very same reason.
posted by Artw at 9:08 PM on May 26, 2008


I guess I picked the wrong day to stop playing GTAIV cause I'm turning the power back on after looking at this post and feeling nostalgic.
posted by isopraxis at 9:12 PM on May 26, 2008


These are great. Thank you for posting them.
posted by ElmerFishpaw at 9:16 PM on May 26, 2008



Apparently 75% of notable Bronx residents are rappers.


Hip hop culture was born in the South Bronx, so it's not surprising a lot of rappers come from there.

These are some amazing photos. I was aware that large chunks of NYC were basically post-apocalyptic third world hellholes in the 70s and 80s, but some of these pictures are worse than I imagined. It kind of kills my idealized imagined version of "old NYC" from movies like Style Wars and classic old school rap.
posted by DecemberBoy at 9:20 PM on May 26, 2008


Are there parts of America today that are this bad? I don't mean just "impoverished ghettos," because surely those remain -- but are there places that just look this out-and-out hopeless and wasted? The only places I've seen that come remotely close are mostly abandoned (e.g., inner-city Detroit). But the fact that these parts of NYC in the 70's were actually well-populated make it seem almost Third World-ish.

It's really seems something of a small miracle that NYC managed to pick itself up again after reaching such a nadir. I wasn't around at the time, but I can't imagine many people in the 70's fathomed that NYC might one day might achieve complete revitalization.
posted by decoherence at 9:24 PM on May 26, 2008


Ghettos are still ghettos. Anacostia in DC is fairly bad, as are parts of Baltimore. But I've never seen anything like that.
posted by empath at 9:33 PM on May 26, 2008


Most of this was due to the aftermath of the MLK riots and white flight, though, yes? Surely a temporary abberation. It's funny that people are complaining about gentrification now.
posted by empath at 9:35 PM on May 26, 2008


Are there parts of America today that are this bad?

Dude, there are still plenty of places in NYC alone that are this bad.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 9:41 PM on May 26, 2008


They drove it out to the suburbs:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6598999

I live in California and this is starting to happen pretty fast. Out in places like Tracy and Vacaville there are a lot of foreclosures. For example I just checked yahoo real estate, and there are ~400 homes for sale and ~700 foreclosures in Vacaville. Some are worse, like Lathrop, that has 100 homes for sale and maybe 600 foreclosutes. Who moves into those homes when they are empty? Squatters, drug dealers and so on. Friends tell me that their previously decent exurbs are getting dangerous at night.

We never addressed the structural issues that destroyed the urban working class. The problem is that since the media is highly concentrated in NYC and LA, there hasn't been much attention paid to what is happening. Until now that is.

I predict we'll see photos like the OP's eventually. But with meth houses instead of shooting galleries.

I don't see the resiliency there in the burbs that there is in the cities, in terms of community as well as the geography. A lot of the new exurbs haven't had time to build community institutions. And as energy costs rise, it gets harder to get around. Hope I'm wrong about that...

The older 'burbs, I think, might make it, especially the ones that are post-industrial and have a jobs base. Around here that would be San Jose, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, etc.
posted by wuwei at 9:57 PM on May 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


Dude, there are still plenty of places in NYC alone that are this bad.

Dude, there are places in Kansas that are this bad (just with shorter buildings).
posted by amyms at 10:08 PM on May 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


Wow.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:11 PM on May 26, 2008


amyms: exactly. I have a friend who was living in Nebraska for a while for work. One day he got bored and decided to randomly drive around. Bad idea. He told me that he ended up in a rough part of town that was "dude-- easily as bad as West Oakland. Guys on streetcorners slangin' and stuff."
posted by wuwei at 10:12 PM on May 26, 2008


Great photos. Shame about the text.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:27 PM on May 26, 2008


He told me that he ended up in a rough part of town that was "dude-- easily as bad as West Oakland. Guys on streetcorners slangin' and stuff.

No need to diss West Oakland (or any other place) to make your point. The gun-toting hicks in rural America are just as scary, if not scarier, than the denizens of the big-city ghettoes.
posted by amyms at 10:39 PM on May 26, 2008


But it is like that. And my friend used to spend a lot of time there-- that was pretty much an exact quote from him.
posted by wuwei at 10:45 PM on May 26, 2008


A lot of time in and near West Oakland, that is.
posted by wuwei at 10:45 PM on May 26, 2008


Ford to city: Drop Dead!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:26 PM on May 26, 2008


The story he tells about Barbara and her husband encapsulates the situation - an entire city gone mad due to flagrant injustice ignored by society.

Excellent series of photos; any time an artist can capture something like this and convey it without it feeling exploitative, I think they have succeeded.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:38 PM on May 26, 2008


Wow. Thanks for this. The Jacob Holdt site is amazing.
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 12:40 AM on May 27, 2008


This post is amazing and much appreciated! I was familar with Holdt before and his wonderful American Pictures. There is a very strong, distorting element of comic book grade Marxism, class/race tourism and fetishisation of the 'other' in his politics which I find a bit worrying but the power of his art is hard to deny. On a related point, I remember visting NYC as a child in the 80s and it being rather more scuzzy than today, but in the Disney clean up it is hard to avoid the sense that something wonderful has been lost. A sense of possibility.
posted by The Salaryman at 3:06 AM on May 27, 2008


Amazing pictures! From what I've seen nowadays, having explored large parts of the South Bronx, Brooklyn, and Harlem, there is nothing in NYC that resembles these photos. To be sure, there is still poverty, drug addiction, abandoned buildings, and empty lots, but it is much cleaner, less garbage, hardly any burned-out cars, less deperation and resignation. However, while the trains are cleaner and I don't have to worry about getting mugged, I am bummed that so much of Manhattan (and increasingly, parts of Brooklyn and Queens) now resembles a suburban mall, inundated with tourists who parade the streets with enormous shopping bags.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:08 AM on May 27, 2008


Goddammit. I've never seen anything like this outside of photos of the third world. I can't help but wonder if there's anything comparable to that here in Canada...the only photos I've seen that come close are of native reservations (to our eternal shame).

> I am bummed that so much of Manhattan (and increasingly, parts of Brooklyn and Queens) now resembles a suburban mall, inundated with tourists who parade the streets with enormous shopping bags.

I hear ya, but isn't it better than the alternative?
posted by you just lost the game at 6:09 AM on May 27, 2008


...And the workers rose up to seize the means of production from The Man, New York became a Socialist paradise, and crime dropped dramatically over the coming decades.
posted by mattholomew at 6:40 AM on May 27, 2008


Great photos, thanks!
posted by pantufla at 6:50 AM on May 27, 2008


I thought it was just a collection of pictures; the first bit of text passed by almost unnoticed and then suddenly I realized I was following a story and the pictures all came together at a level of reality I was unprepared for. I couldn't stop reading.
Fantastic post.
posted by Billegible at 6:55 AM on May 27, 2008


Ah, the good old days before the Yuppies took over.
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 6:56 AM on May 27, 2008


8 Shot in Harlem (this is from last night)
posted by cell divide at 7:11 AM on May 27, 2008


In 1977 my 10th grade class took a field trip from suburban Connecticut to Manhattan to see an opera (!?) at Lincoln Center. The driver got off I-95 at 178th and drove the entire length of Harlem with a busload of 14-year-old white kids from the leafy suburbs, staring out the window slack-jawed and terrified.

Now I could live there if I had a spare $1.5 million.
posted by stargell at 8:03 AM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


stargell, I had pretty much the same experience in grade six, except we were travelling from Canada to Detroit in the mid-'80s.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:05 AM on May 27, 2008


I know it's a little strange, but I grew up in the rural south and when I went to NY for the first time I was scared to death. Granted, it was the early 90's and the city was already on it's way out of the deepest of depths then (though crack was still king), after a while I though, oh it's not so bad here. Then I went home and realized why I thought so. Crack was king back home too. 80% of the population of my little town were on welfare. The downtown was derelict and many buildings were caving in. My friends and I grew up playing in an abandoned cotton gin that hadn't operated since the 40's. The difference was you could walk out in the woods or fields and escape the uglyness of the Blackbelt of Alabama, in Harlem, you were stuck with it.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:43 AM on May 27, 2008


Homicides in Oakland 2007/2008
posted by kirkaracha at 9:15 AM on May 27, 2008


Yeah, parts of New York got cleaned up so wealthy people could live in them. And the drug addicts died or went to jail or got forced off the streets of Harlem to make way for co-ops. But poverty didn't go away; it got worse not better, just not in selected areas of New York City. You could also get a good sense of what New York was like then by looking at many other cities now. But my, weren't those painted subway cars something!
posted by cogneuro at 1:27 PM on May 27, 2008


Jacob Holdt, previously on Metafilter.
posted by anthill at 3:00 PM on May 27, 2008


as of fifteen years ago, there were parts of the near south side in Chicago that looked like this. and what is it about the quiet revolutionary nature of bus drivers? it's kind of horrifying to treat a ghetto like something to be witnessed from a bus by a bunch of tourists, but then it's probably the first glimpse a lot of middle class white kids get of the lifestyles of their fellow americans.

In 1977 my 10th grade class took a field trip from suburban Connecticut to Manhattan to see an opera (!?) at Lincoln Center. The driver got off I-95 at 178th and drove the entire length of Harlem with a busload of 14-year-old white kids from the leafy suburbs, staring out the window slack-jawed and terrified.

I had pretty much the same experience in grade six, except we were travelling from Canada to Detroit in the mid-'80s.


when we were on our way from the Chicago suburbs to St. Louis for a big ol' field trip, we drove through East St. Louis. (circa 1992.) the kids found it disturbing, but the driver was unrelenting.
posted by RedEmma at 3:21 PM on May 27, 2008


That's what parts of the Bronx looked like in the 1970's, but it's not what most of NYC looked like.

And, however cute the line might be, just where in NYC are there such places TODAY? There are no such places.
posted by BrooklynCouch at 3:32 PM on May 27, 2008


Is this the New York that Giuliani is credited with changing? I always hear him credited with "cleaning up" Times Square and New York but I always got the feeling that that was "Heckofa Brownie"-style back-patting. Of course, I say that as someone who's spent a grand total of two days on the island, so I probably have no idea what I'm talking about.
posted by lekvar at 3:40 PM on May 27, 2008


Rudy definitely helped by, over eight years, making NYC a lot safer than it was, which, in turn, made much, if not most of the City fertile for gentrification. Of course, many argue that crime was dropping nationally anyway. The problem with the theory is that urban crime still makes places large parts, if not most of such as Newark, Detroit, and DC scary and unattractive.
posted by BrooklynCouch at 4:18 PM on May 27, 2008


Parts of NYC have definitely been cleaned up. I've heard prostitutes used to stand on the corners in Times Square and I can't for the life of me reconcile that with the neon Disneyland that Times Square is now. But if you want to see a few of contemporary drugs and crime in the city, there's no better place to start than with Boogie's photography. His site is at http://www.artcoup.com/ and he also recently published a fantastic book called "It's All Good" of his work in New York City's underworld. While some of the pictures are from places where the hipsters fear to tread (East New York, Crown Heights, Brownsville) there's a lot of terrifying work from Bushwick and Bed-Stuy which are "up and coming." Heck, I lived a block from Marcy for a bit, and then moved to a couple blocks from the Bushwick projects and there were plenty others like me looking for cheap rent not too far out.
posted by msbrauer at 5:24 PM on May 27, 2008


I'd also like to know which parts of NYC are 'that bad' - as bad as the South Bronx in the 70s - today. It's not in the Bronx.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 7:35 PM on May 27, 2008


By the 1980's the South Bronx wasn't even so bad, according to one police captain, as essentially everyone had left. This is from a statistics, not how long until you personally experience crime, perspective.

New York City is a much safer place than it was a few decades ago, but it lost a bit of it's libertarian mystique and sense of color in the process. Back then, if you were not hurting someone, the cops looked the other way on crime. People smoked dope openly on the streets, sold it too, hookers were always asking you for a date, the hustlers in Times Square were fun to watch. it was live and let live, and even very many of the people who were not living the "illegal" lifestyle were happy to look the other way in part because it made some moral sense to let people alone unless they were bothering you. Then church lady came to town and all the fun was over.

I do like riding the subways without getting mugged though.
posted by caddis at 9:24 PM on May 27, 2008


I totally agree that NYC is no longer as interesting as it once was. But that's pretty much how the world works: "interesting" is roughly inversely proportional to "comfortable." That sucks.
posted by BrooklynCouch at 9:35 PM on May 27, 2008



I'd also like to know which parts of NYC are 'that bad' - as bad as the South Bronx in the 70s - today. It's not in the Bronx.

Try east new york (brooklyn).

The million dollar block project.
posted by lalochezia at 1:23 PM on June 2, 2008


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