The Manhattan of 1982 was a city of delis, dry cleaners, and hardware shops. Of greasy diners, stationery stores, and donut pubs. We can see this thanks to photographer Dan Weeks' exhaustive project Street View New York 1982. The website and accompanying blog features black-and-white panoramic photos of Midtown, giving us a detailed glimpse into what the city used to be.
I asked Dan about the project and here's what he said.
Detail: 8th Ave. between 45th and 46th
"During the 1970s and 1980s I was a dedicated photographer. In NYC my work was 'discovered' by Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton on the eve of their film Reds. Later I shot Barbara Streisand’s Yentl and Places in the Heart with Sally Field.
In the midst of all the commercial work, I wanted to create a photographic portrait of New York City that would 'live forever,' something that would capture a slice of time that recorded the little details that are often forgotten. What if we could look at a detailed street view of Paris in 1790? I hoped the idea would catch on."
Columbus between 82nd and 83rd, click to enlarge
"This vision was bigger than anything I could do by myself, so I assembled a team of photo-enthusiasts who were as maniacal as I was. The whole project was a team effort from the start, and no one person can take credit for the resulting images, although I paid for everything, including salaries for everyone, which ruined me financially.
We called the project U.S. Photo, because I wanted to photograph the U.S. (like Google later did). I owned a VW bus, so we mounted a Nikon F motordrive with a 250 frame back on a platform on top of the bus. Ben Porter operated the camera. Peter McNally drove the VW. He was in radio contact with Ben so they could manage the traffic flow and photograph an even sequence of shots, which was difficult on Manhattan streets, as you can imagine.
I had envisioned an analogue version of 'Google Streets' before the digital age, so we were bound to the film, paper, and chemistry of the day."
"The production phase lasted about six months before I ran out of money and I ended up with a mountain of wreckage. Thousands of negatives, thousands of 5- x 7-inch prints--cut in montage sequence and hot-waxed to boards--what a mess!
The entire project was an utter failure. No one was interested in the pictures. They said, 'Why did you do that? I can walk out on the sidewalk and see those streets.'
Columbus between 85th and 86th, click to enlarge
Twenty five years later, I found myself on the Wind River Indian Reservation of Wyoming, still hauling those negs around. In the meantime, digital scanning and montage had improved and gotten less expensive, so I gave it another shot, and posted a few of the results on the web.
The original intention was to shoot everything. Now I can say, 'Oh, I wish we had shot the Village, Soho, lower East Side, etc.' And I wish we had."
Detail: 8th Ave between 43rd and 44th St.