The Urban Lens: A tourist’s take on NYC in 1979

Posted On Fri, May 19, 2017 By

Posted On Fri, May 19, 2017 By In Features, History, photography, The urban lens

6sqft’s ongoing series The Urban Lens invites photographers to share work exploring a theme or a place within New York City. In this installment, we share a set of vintage photos documenting NYC in 1979. Are you a photographer who’d like to see your work featured on The Urban Lens? Get in touch with us at [email protected].

In the spring of 1979, a 20-something Australian tourist came to NYC and was immediately struck by its fast pace and no-nonsense attitude (“there seemed to be an unwritten rule not to make eye contact or speak to strangers,” he told Gothamist), as well as how much in disrepair parts of the city were, especially Harlem. He documented his experience through a series of color slides, which were recently rediscovered and present a unique view of how exciting, frightening, and mysterious New York was to an outsider at this time.

NYC 1979, vintage New York, old NYC photos, NYC 1970s

West 125th Street and Fifth Avenue

East 127th Street

“I was shocked at the state of disrepair in Harlem. The streets had big potholes. There were many burned out buildings. Some lots had no building, just piles of rubble,” the photographer told Gothamist.

Of the subway car picture, he told Flashbak, “I remember feeling very nervous when I took this photo. One of the other passengers remarked ‘That’s a nice camera.’ That made me more nervous because generally people on the subway did not even look at each other much less talk. I had never seen trains covered in graffiti like those in New York at that time. This carriage was covered inside and out including on the floor, ceiling and all the seats.”

Centre and Canal Streets

East 42nd Street

Outside Grand Central

Times Square

Inside the World Trade Center

Looking out from the World Trade Center



All photos courtesy of Terry From Sydney/Flickr

  • Skye

    So much nostalgia. City was dirty but still amazing like none other.

  • urban_wanderer

    The city was dirty and the subways were disgraceful, but there were cheap apartments. And it was easier to get a job.

  • Teddy Flyfisher Davis

    It’s come a long way from back in the day…No matter though, it’s STILL the greatest city in the world…My home…..!

  • justmehere

    I arrived in the fall of 1980 and caught some of that same situation. Being new in such a place and having found a job the same week I arrived, spent most of my time either working or checking out the girls around my neighborhood precisely in Harlem (East as well as West side). Liked it very much since I bumped into a lot of old childhood friends I hadn’t seen in years. A few minutes ago a FB friend shared a video of that very same song that takes me back to those days every time I hear it. Is called Native New Yorker by Odyssey. Happy Holidays wherever you may be in the world.

  • justmehere

    Thank you very much Dana Schulz. Loved it. Congrats to the photographer. I think it would be quite interesting if that person could go back today and take those same photographs once again. I don’t live there anymore but I miss that place.



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