Mean Streets: NYC 1970-1985

Black and white photos from when the sidewalks were open-air stages

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In a time when people seem to pause only to snap the picturesque, new photo book “Mean Streets: NYC 1970-1985” is an important reminder to take off the smartphone-induced blinders. The book is compiled of largely never-before-printed black and white shots taken by Edward Grazda, on a Leica rangefinder (on Kodak Tri-X or Ilford HP5 Plus film). He photographed Bob Dylan and Newport Folk Festival in the ’60s, in Latin America in the ’70s, and Afghanistan and Pakistan in the ’80s and ’90s—and would take these shots in NYC in between. The streets look much less congested, and Grazda’s subjects command more space and attention, as they wear their resilience on their sleeves. Before air-conditioning was common, cars parked on the street would have their tops and windows rolled down, and storefronts, too: almost increasing the size of the shared streets, making interaction near-unavoidable.

Grazda—though born in Flushing, Queens—is now only in NYC part time. “The streets are now crowded with tourists and sightseers. In the old days, you knew the people,” he says. “I am not interested in photographing in NYC now.” At the moment, the 70-year-old has taken his camera to the south west.

“Mean Streets” is now available from powerHouse Books and Amazon. If you’re in the mood for a companion book, Carrie Boretz offers her own take of a grittier, dirtier, scarier city in her book “Street: New York City – 70s, 80s, 90s“—a Kickstarter success story also published by powerHouse this year.

Images of physical book by Cool Hunting; all others courtesy of Mean Streets by Edward Grazda, published by powerHouse Books