Tuesday, September 29, 2015


Photographer Miron Zownir has just published NYC RIP, a collection of photographs capturing the "day-to-day lunacy" of New York City in the 1980s--mostly images of sex workers and drug addicts--with an introduction by Lydia Lunch.

In talking to Dazed, Zownir recalled of his time in New York, “Rents were still cheap, crime was high, most of the Lower East Side, Harlem and the Bronx were dangerous slums, the establishment was uncomfortable and scared, and the police corrupt or helpless to guarantee any protection. But NYC was bursting with a sexual and creative energy that was overwhelming.”

His beat was Times Square, the Bowery, the piers along the Hudson River. All places that have been sterilized since. As Lydia Lunch writes in the intro, the city has been "white washed of all its kaleidoscopic perversions in order to make it safe for anyone who could afford the ridiculous rents charged for shoe box size apartments."

see full NSFW image here

Recently in the Times, Edmund White asked why so many of us are nostalgic for the gritty New York of the 1970s/80s. He explained that there's "a craving for the city that, while at its worst, was also more democratic: a place and a time in which, rich or poor, you were stuck together in the misery (and the freedom) of the place, where not even money could insulate you."

In New York magazine this week, Mark Jacobson writes about the 1970s New York nostalgia trend. He says, "Change is the genius of the city, what has always made New York what it is. But the whiplash rezoning of more than 40 percent of the five boroughs during Bloomberg’s tenure has produced a generational-based moral crisis. Longtime residents no longer feel the joy of the ever-altering landscape, the rapid clip of cosmopolitan turnover that creates continuity. They walk about gaslighted, as if suddenly set down in a drug dealer’s apartment, with everything new and shiny, bought at the same time."

Read more at Dazed. Get NYC RIP. And see Miron's work here.


James said...

Such an interesting topic: why we crave the olden miserable New York of, say, the 80's. I say miserable advisedly, as there was certainly that youthful creative ebullience everywhere, but then again I was young myself and full of said ebullience. The real topic here (and I fervently believe this) is memory. There is no way the prostitutes and pimps I remember from my Hell's Kitchen apartment could possibly have remained - frozen in amber as it were. The prostitutes from that time are mostly dead. The pimps are gone. Should we imagine another generation of said street merchants being raised to this ignominious life? I remember seeing sores on legs which looked like something out of The Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch. I remember a wheelchair-bound man who would wake up the neighborhood at dawn with his hoots. I remember him peeing out into the street from a seated position in that very chair. Surely we can remember these all-too-human moments, but who wants to keep on living them? We traded so much of our essence for technology anyway.
Books like these and others are important because they remember. Had we not changed from what we were 120 years ago, just the same, we'd be in some barbarous but fascinating company. Nevertheless, the best thing we have is our imagination coupled with our ability to retain memory. All else is temporary.

Scout said...

Memory is a lovely, rosy thing.

Rents were still cheap, crime was high, most of the Lower East Side, Harlem and the Bronx were dangerous slums, the establishment was uncomfortable and scared, and the police corrupt or helpless to guarantee any protection. But NYC was bursting with a sexual and creative energy that was overwhelming.

Things were not the same across the board. I moved here in the late 70s. I recall my first rent (1 bedroom in an Alphabet City share) as $300. Although that's only $868 in 2015 dollars, it felt like a significant chunk of my actor/musician/waiter income at the time. And I was willing to live with a certain amount of squalor (I liked the dirt and crime and the Bohemian life). Friends who were not willing were paying up to $750 for their own places in quieter, safer areas ($2,169.14 in 2015 dollars - you can still find a decent 1 bedroom in Manhattan for that, if you know how to do it).

"Crime was still high..." - again, not across the board. The Upper East and west Sides were practically suburban in their safeness, as was Greenwich Village. Although I knew Alphabet City had crime, I never once saw a robbery or mugging, between 1978 and 1985. My apartments were never broken into. And the 80s felt like a progressive slide TOWARDS increased safety.

Remember - the Ford modelling agency bought several units in the Christadora House on Avenue B in 1986 - super models living gladly in Alphabet City as early as that! How dangerous could it have been?

Memory is a beautiful place to live, but all humans need to beware the illusory rosy tint of la recherche du temps perdu.

John K said...

Just stunning and moving and heartbreaking, Jeremiah.

Thank you for posting this entry on Miron Zownir, the image you did, and the links to and about his work. He captured what is essentially a vanished world, an Atlantis buried under the heavy waters of 21st century hyper-concentrated wealth and power, and almost unimaginable in today's New York (or San Francisco or any of these other "white washed," as Lydia Lunch puts it) cities.

There was a lot of bad back then, but a lot of good as well. Nostalgia casts a haze, of course, sometimes a dense one, but there was and is something to be said about the freedom of 1970s, 1980s and even 1990s New York City compared to the increasingly sanitized, museumified, hypergentrified, ghost-of-itself city--Bloombergistan, even though de Blasio is nominally running things--that it is today.