I used to think the gritty and grimy depiction of New York in the 1970s and 80s seen in movies like The Warriors and Maniac, and TV shows like Night Court and The Equalizer was an exaggeration, but it turns out they weren’t that far off.
The city streets were crackling with an electric energy during those dark days, and overall New York City was a much more dangerous place, but artists also took license with the city’s dark side for dramatic effect.
However, photographer Steven Siegel didn’t need to exaggerate or manipulate the truth to make the NYC streets he shot during the 80s look like an apocalyptic wasteland, he just removed the lens cap and documented what he saw.
Steven spoke to Gothamist about the difference between NYC then and now:
New York in the 1980s differed in two fundamental ways from the New York of today. First, 1980s-era New York was an edgier, riskier, dirtier, tenser, more dangerous and chaotic place. I think that fairly comes through in my images. Second, 1980s-era New York had a sense of wide-openness and freedom that was lost following 9/11… and likely never will be regained.
Notice how these two fundamental changes overlap in a number of important ways. A safer city, to some extent, comes at the price of a loss of freedom and openness. Conversely, the edginess and riskiness of the 1980s came at an appalling human and social cost. My photos of South Bronx and Bushwick are—if I might say so—a testament to that. Those who might be nostalgic for the edginess and riskiness of the 1980s were surely not the people who were growing up in the South Bronx and Bushwick in the era.
The trade-off between openness and security is reflected in a very literal way in some of my 1980s photos.