The Urban Lens: Go back to the ‘mean streets’ and urban decay of 1970s NYC

Posted On Fri, October 13, 2017 By

Posted On Fri, October 13, 2017 By In Features, History, photography, The urban lens

The corner of Broadway and 55th Street in 1970

6sqft’s series The Urban Lens invites photographers to share work exploring a theme or a place within New York City. In this installment, Edward Grazda shares photos from the “mean streets” of 1970s and ’80s NYC. Are you a photographer who’d like to see your work featured on The Urban Lens? Get in touch with us at [email protected].

When photographer Edward Grazda moved to New York in the early ’70s, he was renting a loft on Bleecker Street for $250 a month during a time when the city was in a financial crisis, jobs were hard to come by, and places like the Bowery were facing a huge rise in homelessness. But it was also a time when a new generation of artists were beginning to move in. Instead of the tourist- and millionaire-filled streets we see today, 40 years ago they were teeming with energy. “I felt like there were many possibilities to be creative,” Ed says. And with that in mind, he began shooting candids and random street scenes between personal projects in Latin American and Afghanistan. This work abroad taught him “how to make oneself invisible and blend in on the street.”

Just a few years ago, Ed rediscovered these black-and-white photos and noticed how different things are now, from the physical buildings to the absence of people reading newspapers. He decided to compile them into a book “Mean Streets: NYC 1970-1985,” which was just released earlier this week and offers a rare look back “at that desolate era captured with the deliberate and elegant eye that propelled Grazda to further success.”

6th Street and the Bowery in 1973

Houston Street in 1973

Elizabeth and Houston Streets in 1975

The Bowery in 1970

Midtown in 1970

Bleecker and Elizabeth Streets in 1980

Bowery and Bleecker Street in 1981

Midtown in 1970

Delancey Street in 1976

Chrystie Street in 1975

Bowery in 1973

Bowery in 1976

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All photos © Edward Grazda

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  • StanChaz

    Mean streets?
    In reality the streets of New York have become meaner since the 70’s – especially for the salt of the earth, for the least of these, for the artists, for the struggling, for the poor, and for all those who have lost their way, or who are deemed disposable by this callous society. I’d much rather see them instead of the rich & arrogant bastards that currently infest and ruin this city like blood-sucking leeches, and the hordes of tourists that have made New York as unique and interesting as any McDonalds.

  • FCENNO

    Looks just like NYC today with all the homeless thanks to our bauffoon of a mayor

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