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 Langdon Clay shares photos from his new photo book “Cars — New York City 1974-1976.” Are you a photographer who’d like to see your work featured on The Urban Lens? Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
New York as a grimey, crime-ridden metropolis sounds like something out of a dystopian sci-fi novel, particularly as we sip our soy lattes and brush artisanal donut crumbs from our lips. But as photos from Langdon Clay’s book “Cars — New York City 1974-1976” show, 40 years ago, Manhattan was more about crowbars and break-ins than cronuts and Airbnb.
In the 18 years Clay lived as a young man in New York City, he spent three of those years exploring the streets of Manhattan in the middle of the night alone. During those wee hours Clay took to some of the city’s most dangerous streets with his Leica camera and a few rolls of Kodachrome, snapping photos of the colorful cars he saw parked against the forlorn urbanscape. Ahead Clay shares with 6sqft some of his favorite images from that time.
How long did you live in NYC and where?
16 years, mostly on 28th street in the Flower District
Why did you decide to focus on cars in your series?
I needed something colorful, as I had just switched from shooting black and white. Also night photography was somewhat novel at that time, 74′-76′. As I say, night was its own color.
Apart from those desolate scenes, what kinds of things did you come across during those two years?
There was of course normal street activity you just don’t see it because these were 30-40 second exposures.
Did you have any dangerous mishaps or run-ins during your outings?
Nobody really bothered me that I can recall, and of course my big tripod could double as a weapon if necessary.
How would you characterize the NYC of the 70s?
Gritty, grimy, easy, and cheap. I was in my twenties so I just enjoyed it warts and all.
You live in Mississippi now, what’s your impression of NYC as it is today?
I was just there and there is always energy in the air compared to Mississippi, which runs at a slow pace. But it is more expensive and not as interesting to look at—in Manhattan anyway. Lots of curious quirky hole-in-the-wall venues have been totally erased, as every square foot is accounted for. I miss them. And the cars are far less interesting now. The cost of gas and the invention of the wind tunnels changed a lot about car design.
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See more in our gallery below…
- The Urban Lens: Harlan Erskine explores an eerie Midtown after midnight in 2008
- The Urban Lens: Bushwick’s ‘Bizarre’ world of burlesque, acrobats, and fire spinners
- The Urban Lens: Documenting New York City’s Vanishing Privilege Signs
Images courtesy of Langdon Clay