Recently, I came across the photography of Mike Frey, a group of shots all taken in New York City between September 1973 and June 1974, his freshman year in the NYU film program.
They show a city half-collapsed on itself, filled with dilapidated diners, cluttered fruit stands, and dusty Chinese restaurants, their cracked windows fixed with masking tape.
Everything in the photos looks dirty. I like the city looking dirty. It's hard to say why, exactly, but I do.
Trouble is, some moron is always coming around to say you can't like the dirty old city without also being a fan of rape and murder, which strikes me as an especially moronic thing to say. You can like the look of a time and place without celebrating its worst aspects.
Look at those garbage cans on St. Mark's Place, so quintessentially garbage can-like. They're not made of plastic, but metal and rust. They look like tired workmen, vaguely heroic as they perform a thankless job in the inevitable grip of entropy.
You don't see garbage cans like that anymore--and you don't see the word "transients" much either, except on very old signs that have yet to be ripped down. It's a good word. Transient: 1(a): "passing especially quickly into and out of existence," (b) "passing through or by a place with only a brief stay or sojourn," and 2: "affecting something or producing results beyond itself."
Look at this Staten Island boy. He styled his hair and put on those insanely tall shoes for a trip into the city. He wants them to be as shiny as they can be. He's got things on his mind beyond Staten Island. Did he ever find what he was looking for?
And there's the old High Line, the final stretch where it curves around Hudson Yards. It's being fussed over as we speak, glossed and readied for its reopening later this month. But back then, when Mike Frey was walking around with his camera, it was an old, imperfect thing, flanked by other old, imperfect things.
I liked it that way. I think of the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi (loneliness, withered), a pleasure in the beauty of decay:
an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene
melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be
wabi-sabi." "Wabi and sabi both suggest sentiments of desolation and
We don't get much of that anymore, either.
View the rest of Mike Frey's photo collection on Flickr.