By Katy Cowan
New York City in the 1970s was a wild and dangerous place. After peaking in population in 1950, the city began to feel the effects of large-scale migration to the suburbs, a downturn in industry and commerce as businesses left for cheaper places, an increase in crime and social disorder, and an upturn in its welfare burden – all of which led to a fiscal crisis that pushed the city on the verge of complete collapse.
Photographer Leland Bobbé, a native New Yorker, was there to witness and document the decade, wandering the Big Apple’s streets to capture the local characters, along everywhere from Chinatown and Beekman Street to Sixth Avenue and Broadway.
Speaking of his vintage series, he said he sometimes misses the grit, the danger and the edge: “The city was on the verge of going bankrupt, there was a major blackout, the Son of Sam murders, and the South Bronx looked like a war zone. Before gentrification, neighbourhoods had distinct personalities. Times Square with its prostitutes and peep shows was not a playground for Middle America as it is today and down on the Lower East Side there wasn’t a Gap, a Starbucks or a condo to be found; it had CBGB’s and alcoholics on the street – The Bowery being the end of the line for many.”
Some of his shots were taken shooting from the hip with a 28mm lens, to avoid detection. Others were taken with a zoom telephoto lens. Leland added: “With this group of photographs my intention was to capture the grit and personality of a unique period in New York City history. Long live The Ramones!”
Now, Leland’s classic street photographs have been accepted into the permanent collection at the Museum of The City of New York where you’ll be able to see his work on display. Discover more about Leland at lelandbobbe.com.