Steven Siegel's 80s New York
January 21, 2012 12:00 AM   Subscribe

Steven Siegel's photos of New York in the 80s. Via gothamist.

Here's a bit more on Siegel's work, including three short films he made.
posted by latkes (41 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
For a brief moment, I thought we were seeing a very different side of Steven Segal, and I was totally on board for that.

These are very nice.
posted by gc at 12:25 AM on January 21, 2012 [8 favorites]

posted by delmoi at 12:33 AM on January 21, 2012

Uncle Leo, is that you?
posted by peacay at 12:35 AM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is a great capture!
posted by gc at 12:37 AM on January 21, 2012

This. I was almost beginning to doubt that tunnel ever existed. There are two peculiar public art installations on the corner of Water and Fulton. 200 Water Street features a huge light up clock. 37 Fulton features a giant fishing lure and a now dry cement pool with a school of silver fish in it. That tunnel was the entrance to 200 Water Street.Pretty cool, now I have photographic evidence it existed.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:37 AM on January 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Holy crap the Hell Hole. Once I got old enough to go to Coney Island by myself that is the first thing I went into. I had seen it hundreds of times and no adult would let me go in. Turned out it was one of the cylinders that spin and stick you to the wall. Total anticlimax.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:43 AM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ad hominem, that neon tunnel was also used for the background on this album cover. I always thought it was some kind of art installation, never thought it was an actual place in the city.
posted by cazoo at 12:53 AM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

These are amazing.
posted by Meatafoecure at 12:54 AM on January 21, 2012


look, someone has to do it.
posted by alex_skazat at 1:02 AM on January 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

Not sure where this is, but I think those are Richard Hambleton Shadowman paintings.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:18 AM on January 21, 2012

Beautiful thanks.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:21 AM on January 21, 2012

Wow, thanks. I'll get back to this a little bit later, make me a cup of tea, slow down the pace of the slideshow mode, and enjoy it. Thanks !
posted by nicolin at 1:30 AM on January 21, 2012

It's amazing how much more deteriorated and dark the city seems back then. I'm glad someone finally cleaned it up, even if Times Square is lame now.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 1:42 AM on January 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

These are bittersweet, and put me more in the mind of the late 70s as opposed to the 80s, really, and yeah it was dark and it was jagged and unpredictable. I was amazed anytime a train or bus showed up, in anything under an hour.

I feel like now it's so safe and smooth and even tempered, whereas walking from Times Square to 8th Avenue on the deuce (42nd St.) back then was what felt like a MAJOR quest or adventure, with so much weirdness and seediness and pure raw humanity in between.
posted by Skygazer at 2:32 AM on January 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

These photos are amazing. I've been through the whole set. This photo of cool intensity and concentration is just so very awesome, in the truest sense. Mr. Siegel needs to compile his collection, produce a book, and tour museums around the country. I'll gladly pay $50 for a book with high res images based on this series. I know I must not be alone in this sentiment.

This image of Manhattan, Earth, and Sky would make a great and moving cover. I took my damn breath away.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 2:35 AM on January 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

This turned into this, apparently.
posted by disillusioned at 2:41 AM on January 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

It... it, even. Bloody fingers.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 2:47 AM on January 21, 2012

Weird to see again how much the WTC just dominated the skyline from everywhere too. I don't miss those towers on the skyline anymore actually, these days.
posted by Skygazer at 3:01 AM on January 21, 2012

That was great.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:28 AM on January 21, 2012

He's an incredible portraitist. Those kind of semi-candid shots seem incredibly difficult to me, and it takes a certain demeanor that I admire, and utterly lack. The whole process of asking " hey, can I take your picture?" while composing, figuring the exposure, and capturing the moment - it's no mean feat, which is why I tend to only photograph inanimate objects, or people I know.

The patina to these has me wondering what his source was - did he scan negs or prints? What kind of film? They're lovely, both technically and as anachronisms of the analog age.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:43 AM on January 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am sorry it happened the way it did but the removal of the World Trade Center from the NYC skyline has improved it immensely. Not trying to be snarky, that's just how I feel.
posted by zzazazz at 5:05 AM on January 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Wow. I lived there in 1987 and don't remember it looking so old but then again, I am older-ish so there you have it. Great photo set.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 5:47 AM on January 21, 2012

Great photos.

I'm trying to decide if I prefer the hell hole NYC that I lived in back then, or the sanitized, gentrified version that it is now.
posted by freakazoid at 6:17 AM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've only been to NYC once, in '95. Lived in and outside a few larger cities; D.C., L.A, Charlotte (before it was the monstrosity it is today), Baltimore, and Atlanta.

But there's something about New York. Having been born in '83, the skyline seems wrong without the Twin Towers; the sanitized New York that exists today is a direct antithesis of what I appreciated. I fell in love with the constant movement and anonymity and the fact that the city seemed to brood and it was the perfect place for a moody neurotic.

I am now happy in the warm south, but living in a tiny town of 100,000 people it's hard to hide.

When I was still living in the larger cities, I'd spend time walking the downtown streets late at night and early in the morning; I still do that here, but am more careful. For Wilmington to be as small as it is, it's not the safest place around. The city is different when it sleeps. Now I just like to hit the beach around 2 am; just me and the fishermen.

Maybe it was the fact that New York just didn't seem to slow down. There was character. Or maybe it was just an idealistic teenager that had fantasies of finding something more.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 6:58 AM on January 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

Devils Rancher: I've found a lot of great portraits happen right before and after the formal pose. That golden moment right after you've taken the photo where people relax, or you say something to them and they laugh.

I love the kid on top of the chain link backstop. Partly because Siegel must have climbed up there too. And this misty NYC portrait was a heart-stopper too. Hell, I love all of this gritty NYC in the 80's photography. The gap of time makes everyone look like a street performer.

Oh and taking pictures of kids on the street! That's pretty much an impossibility now in the US.
posted by Mercaptan at 7:24 AM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Or maybe it was just an idealistic teenager that had fantasies of finding something more."

posted by idiopath at 7:42 AM on January 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

these are from the early 80s. i came to NYC in 1986 and there's a lot of stuff am seeing here, especially in places like Times Sq and Houston Street area, that had already changed by the second half of the 80s.

siegel has an amazing eye. am enjoying these but it makes me feel sad and old. so much has changed that now we can truly say that's the old new york city we all came to love and hate and yet is no more. we're never it getting back :\
posted by liza at 8:23 AM on January 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

This photo also appears in:

Urban Decay

And we wouldn't have had it any other way.

posted by Trurl at 8:37 AM on January 21, 2012

These are great - but I counted quite a large number of his subjects who looked like they were going to attack the photographer. Hope nobody did. Maybe that was just a NYC in the 80s look.
posted by rongorongo at 8:43 AM on January 21, 2012

These are fantastic pictures, and fill me with a bit of longing. I started hanging out in NYC in the summer of 1988 (and moved here in the spring of '93 only days after the WTC bombing), and I feel as if I arrived on the cusp of its metamorphosing into the whitewashed city of today. I would see streetwalkers in the meatpacking district early in the morning. 42nd Street still had a very much gritty feel, but the trains were rid of all the graffiti. It was still considered dangerous to go to Central Park after sunset. Heck, even in the early '90s, I would see streetwalkers lingering on Washington Street, a far cry from the High Line and boutiques that are in the area now.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 8:53 AM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

a hustle here and a hustle there
new york city is the place where
they said
hey babe
take a picture of it for the twenty-first century

doesn't quite scan, does it?

also, as many similar posts as I've seen to this one, I still eat 'em up. This is the NYC that I expected from seeing movies and TV shows set there in the seventies, and that I caught a brief glimpse of in the mid-eighties. By the time I moved there in '93 for a brief time, it was already mostly gone away.

posted by Halloween Jack at 10:30 AM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

These are beautiful. Thank you.
posted by saiwol at 11:25 AM on January 21, 2012

I love photo sets like this. I grew up in Philly in the late 80s/90s, when it was essentially the same kind of dark, moody, almost assuredly dangerous city on display here. Now a lot of that is gone, replaced by something prettier and a lot more vibrant. I know it's all for the better, and that I enjoy the city as it is now more than I would the living ruins of the past; but I still have moments where I miss the dingy, dirty, post-industrial wreck of my youth.
posted by Toby Dammit X at 11:33 AM on January 21, 2012

oh, these are wonderful. Thank you.

(for any other subway nerds out there, they reminded me of the tales of the NYC Subway in the 70s and 80s that I very much enjoyed reading a little while back)
posted by corvine at 11:36 AM on January 21, 2012

Awesome. Thanks!
posted by trip and a half at 12:35 PM on January 21, 2012

I was almost beginning to doubt that tunnel ever existed.

Yep. That wasn't an art installation, it was the best building lobby ever. My dad was an electrician, and he helped install that neon, and the big digital clock next to the building. He would take us to walk through the neon tunnel, and ride in the elevators (one bank had red lighting inside, the other had blue lighting that made people look cool and food look gross), whenever we went down to South Street Seaport. At the time, I think the address wasn't 200 Water Street, but 127 John Street. I seem to remember that at the end of the neon tunnel, near the elevators, different lengths of tubes stuck out from the wall. From a distance, the lighting through the tubes spelled out the building's address. Close up, from underneath, it just looked wild and wonderful.

I am a sucker for this stuff. Man, it was weird growing up in some kind of Alan Moore end-times fantasy. The carnival-style car washes, Silence=Death (hey Steven!), the ads for crappy cigarettes, the squeegee men, the Vietnam vets, the sex industry, the holes through bridges and the West Side Highway (per my dad, it was possible to kick through the very rusted side railings), those shitty fans in the top of the subway cars, the insurance-burnt buildings and rubble lots. And then came Flint.

This picture is just all kinds of beautiful. I want to paint it and hang it on my wall.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 12:44 PM on January 21, 2012 [8 favorites]

Some of these would make great portraits. I gotta get some canvas.
posted by freakazoid at 12:48 PM on January 21, 2012

Thanks very, very much for the post. Wonderful shots all round, but yes, that building lobby. And also, the posed shots inside the subway cars.
posted by paperpete at 1:30 PM on January 21, 2012

Fantastic and fascinating. Thank you for this!
posted by Narrative Priorities at 2:17 PM on January 21, 2012

I remember the Fascination facade in Times Square: always loved it. And that old relic of a Howard Johnson's sign, too.

God, Times Square is lame now.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:27 PM on January 21, 2012

Yeah, seriously. I miss the adrenaline rush from when I was a teen, because it was actually really fucking scary, and dangerous if you made the wrong eye contact or stopped to long in a certain situation.

So it was literally 2 cardinal rules: KEEP MOVING NO MATTER WHAT and BE CAREFUL OF EYE CONTACT.

Now, it's more like, damn, I wish these people from Oklahoma would stop blocking the effin' sidewalk and oh! Look, it's CARS in 3D! Ooohhh....
posted by Skygazer at 5:38 PM on January 21, 2012

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