When I was a child, I got it into my head that anything that took place before I was born happened in black and white. Not so unusual when most televisions were black and white and most family photographs were too. To this day when the weather is nice and I am roaming around, I try to remember that 150 years ago in my little town the people who were alive then experienced the same blue sky and green lawns. Their lives did not occur in sepia tone.
Having just scanned this rather old negative and dragged it into Photoshop for a better look, my first thought was it was not very good and not very interesting to look at.
It doesn’t look so much like it was composed as created by my anxious shutter finger wanting to just do something. At that time, I had started roaming the streets of the city and had not yet developed my eye, my way of interpreting something that interested me. Back then I thought most of my pictures were “camera club” at least until I started to have a life. I had no eye until I worked nights in the city, had my heart broken and was broke and hungry. What plane of reference for emotional interaction with the people and situations that we wish to photograph do we have without a few scars?
But that is not in this picture.
Back then I would say to myself that when I was an old man, I would finally get around to looking through all of these images and at that time do whatever it was I was supposed to do with them. I believed then that I was note taking my life so I would be able to look back at it and see something.
So I guess I got my eye because along with a lot of good times I got my scars. And, a great many of my negatives from that time were destroyed in a flood 23 years ago and others were simply lost. And I forgot about them after a while.
Last year I guess I decided that I was an older version of me and maybe it was time to see what all the fuss had been about. So I found the boxes of negatives, and I have been very methodically going through them, scanning, restoring when needed, printing and posting.
And to my surprise, a lot of those very early images aren’t half bad. I can even see how my vision was changing from one sheet of negs to another. There were a lot of clunkers, but some I really like a lot. And, those old images, got me writing about photography which I am grateful for.
But this picture as I said isn’t one of those. It’s interesting simply because it’s old. It shows a little street life in the mid to late 1970’s and it gives a plane of reference for how the world has changed.
One of the first things that caught my eye was the TAXI cab in the street. It is a Checker Cab. Made in New Jersey and at one time the only vehicle used as a New York City hack. I drove one of those at night just one week after moving to New York City and starting school.
The car is an early 70’s Monte Carlo and is a piece of shit like every other Detroit car was in the 70’s. That same car, the kid who’s father owned Sonny’s Pizzeria, the place I delivered for in high school, had been given for his birthday. We all knew what business Dad was really in, and it was where I learned to make myself very small when necessary.
The woman isn’t holding an electronic device of any kind. She probably has a book in her bag. She didn’t have to worry about picking up anything her dog left behind either, because there wasn’t any Pooper Scooper law yet, making as I remember, the Summer of Sam frightening and quite odoriferous.
And that avenue is 23rd Street. On the west side, and look those are real New York City tenements across the street with fire escapes and businesses on the ground floor. The building on the left with the 3 and 3 windows was once a private house, probably built in the 1850’s.
Now 23rd street in that neighborhood is all new construction with no fire escapes and rather than stores selling used office furniture there are Starbucks, and Gap stores and places a lot fancier than me.
So yeah, this image is kind of Meh. It is not a great piece of “art”. But it is interesting. Maybe a little more to me than you, because I lived that image.
So maybe an interesting picture is all that it is. Still worth having. I think I am just fine with that.
Help Me Print “Women Hold Up Half The Sky” my Second Book.
My book ‘Subway New York City ‘1975-1985’ is available on Etsy.
Gerard Exupery has been a New York City Street Photographer for 40 years, He attended the School of Visual Arts and studied with Lisette Model at The New School. He has also worked as an oil rig roustabout, a photographer’s assistant, custom printer, motorcycle mechanic, audio engineer, video engineer, producer, and Mr. Mom. Exupery also drove a New York City taxi which he considers his post-graduate work.