Thursday, July 21, 2011

Street View 1982

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.

18 comments:

Tim said...

Amazing, thanks for sharing!

kind of wish they did make it down to the village...

VisuaLingual said...

Absolutely unbelievable. Hindsight is 20/20, but at least these scenes got photographed back then.

James Taylor said...

There is nothing I like more than an ambitious project carried out by a meticulous obsessive. Amazing! The site is a tad confusing to navigate though. It would be cool to piece the images together in a virtual street view, that worked just like Google...

Jeremiah Moss said...

i am also a fan of the obsessive chroniclers. we need more of them.

Nathan said...

Any chance that these might get made into a book? Looking at photos online is great, but I feel like these types of photos deserve the quiet review and reflection that a book can provide (I know, how 20th Century of me!)

The quality and aesthetic of this reminds me of James and Karla Murray's Storefront book, but more comprehensive.

Ed said...

Very cool. Check out historypin.com as well !

BrooksNYC said...

I'm stunned by some of these streetscapes. I worked and studied at Juilliard in the '70s and '80s, and spent two decades in the bars, restaurants, and stores along Columbus Avenue. They started going extinct in the '90s, and I remember my feelings of loss as the old places closed.

What saddens me now is the realization that at some point I stopped missing them. That's the thing about living in this city, where change is so ferocious. Change, over time, becomes numbing. That is, until you wake up in a smooth and sanitized metropolis and wonder why you feel like a unwelcome guest.

Enjoyed Mr. Weeks' site. Thanks for the link.

Goggla said...

Wow, that site is simply incredible - thank you for the invaluable documentation.

To think the project was a 'failure' in its time is so sad. Something similar happened to Danny Lyon when he photographed the length of Beeckman in the late 60s, just before it was all razed. No one cared and his photo books sold for $1. Now, they're all we have of that time and place.

I'm so glad Weeks took on this project, even if it was only for 6 months. What a treasure.

starzstylista said...

I have lived on SMP across from the Electric Circus for 34 years. One of my greatest regrets is not taking a photo a day, a week, a month or even a year of the view outside my window. This guy is a visionary.

Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

All of my books, except one, are about Times Square in the 60s and 70s with a few such as '100 Whores' about the girls of 3rd Ave and 12-14 Streets and the Lower East Side. I even won a Lambda Award for Fiction 2010. Available at the St Marks Bookshop or on my web site.

Jeremiah Moss said...

a book would be great. i'll suggest it to the photographer if he doesn't read this.

we should all be taking photos now.

Marty Wombacher said...

I would love to read a book of those six months, there has to be some great stories from this great project. I love the whole "pre-Google" aspect of it. Thanks for posting the links, the photos are fantastic.

Alex in NYC said...

Speechless. I've been looking for this type of project forever!!!

Anonymous said...

Great idea, which seems tedious when you're doing it, but priceless years later.

Shawn Chittle said...

Amazing stuff! Love very early 80's NYC!

In a strange coincidence Jeremiah, I just yesterday released my "1982 Central Park Skate Jam" mix record - enjoy...

http://lowereastclyde.com/2011/07/mixes/mix-album-1982-central-park-skate-jam/

Anonymous said...

NYC was way better before the Yupsters ruined it. RIP NYC.

Jeremiah Moss said...

nice cover. love those white bootie skates.

Anonymous said...

Could someone please find where these pics are now and repost. It seems the links are all dead