In terms of things that really make my heart race, as pathetic as this may sound, there are few things that can compare with discovering a new cache of vintage photographs of New York City. I’ve found a couple in my day, and brought them to share with you here. It doesn’t happen too often, but every now and then, I strike oil. And it happened again today.
Given the recent amount of insane bullshit going on University Place (sudden closings to make way for luxury condos, etc.), I was scouring around the `Net for some old photos of the neighborhood that pre-date the bespoke influx, so to speak. That trail inevitably lead to Flickr, and suddenly to the work of one Patrick Cummins.
A Canadian archivist specializing in photographic, cartographic and architectural records, Mr. Cummins displays an exhaustive array of impressive photos on his Flickr page, but it’s the set dubbed “NYC 78-83” that really blew a new part in my hair.
Everyone talks about how “gritty” New York City used to be, and it’s almost become this quaint little descriptor that people blithely toss around, but Cummins’ photographs hit you like a sooty, graffiti-slathered stone. His remarkably composed black and white shots of various city spaces can be chilling and stark, revealing a great city in decline. Suddenly, your eye fixes on some random architectural flourish or landmark, and you recognize the location. More than a few of these pictures had me positively gasping.
Herein you’ll see some evocative shots of Harlem, Chinatown, Coney Island, SoHo and Times Square, but he also stole a few moments of Flaming Pablum favorites like the exterior of CBGB or the interior of Bleecker Bob’s.
For this post, I’m respectfully repurposing his shot from April of 1983 of Stromboli’s Pizza on University Place (which just closed after 47 years to make room for that luxury condo I was groaning about). I also couldn't resist posting the photo below. Recognize it? That's the corner of East 4th and Broadway. Today, that corner spot is occupied by the MLB Mancave, but it became Tower Records only a few years after this shot was taken in 1979. I also, of course, love the "Blondie" and "Rock Lobster" graffitti.
Set some time aside to spend with Mr. Cummins’ images. They’re well worth it.