New York Then and Now: 83 Manhatten Sites Photographed in the Past and Present (New York City) Paperback – 1 Apr 1977
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In the mid-seventies, New York City was not a particularly kind place. The city was going bankrupt, Central Park's lawns were mainly dirt with patches of crab grass, and the subways were covered in graffiti. This book takes me right back there. It's amazing to see how desolate Broadway north of Houston was in the mid seventies and then to experience it today as a boulevard of high-end shops. The same thing goes for the Ladies' Mile shopping district on Sixth Avenue: formerly thriving, forlorn in the seventies, restored and vital today.
The period photos are well chosen, with a ghostly, otherworldly quality. It's so hard to believe Manhattan could ever have been so bucolic, a city of horse-drawn carts in which church steeples were the tallest structures around.
If you want a book that focuses on today, check out "New York Changing" by Douglas Levere, in which he painstakingly "rephotographs" 81 of the scenes captured by the great Berenice Abbott in the thirties. It's an amazing work for New York buffs, a real treat. Using a period camera, Levere went to great lengths to recreate the same shots, aided in one instance by the driver of a double-decker bus who pretended to have mechanical difficulties so that Levere, perched on the top deck, had time to compose his shot. But even Levere's book is a time capsule in that he was working before and after September 11, and several photos show the World Trade Center in all its looming enormousness. Time doesn't stand still, and these books do what they can to document the all-too-fleeting moment.
Dover--bless them!--has a whole series of Then & Now books on Boston, Phila., Washington, and other cities. There should be more: where's San Francisco? London? Paris? Local photogs should get snapping and send proposals to Dover Press.
But... as soon as I opened the book, I remembered why.
The book was published in 1976.
All of the "now" pictures were taken no later than 1974.
So much has changed in Manhattan since 1974... that the "now" views are unfamiliar in many circumstances.
The old photos are facinating... and the commentary interesting... but I still feel the need to take my camera out to all those sites so I can get the perspective I truly wanted.
Being able to compare what are mostly early twentieth century photographs with the photographs often taken from almost exactly the same viewpoint circa 1974-75 is fun and fascinating.
The mid-70's photographs have now taken on a wonderfully 'dated' quality of their own.
The only reason I give just four as opposed to five stars is because I felt a lot of areas were very much over-looked. I'd like to have seen something of the older parts of the West Village, the East Village, more of the Upper Eastside. Whereas there seem to be a lot of photographs of real 'no-man's land' districts that are rather lifeless.
I wish a follow up had been published to fill in the many holes.
But I love this book very much and never get tired of flipping through and noticing new things.