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1/13 — Sign Language, 1980.



These Photos of 1980s NYC Show the Beauty Behind the Grime

Edgy, risky, dirty, and dangerous. These are all adjectives you can use to make your Tinder bio sound more enticing, but they’re also the best way to describe the scene in New York City during the 1980s. This decade in the city saw big hair and model wars clash with graffiti-ridden subway cars and a crack epidemic. Over the years, photographers have unearthed archival photographs that paint the scene as everything from a post-apocalyptic wasteland to a drug-fueled nightmare. Yet, for all of the grit and grime, New York also retained the signature, cinematic style that filmmakers have been capturing for decades. Sometimes, that cinematic quality even transferred over into photography, which is where Robert Herman comes in.

Much of Herman’s childhood was spent in his family’s theater, watching every movie that passed through the screen—taking note of the cinematography more and more every year. His passion for movies brought him to Manhattan in 1976 to study film at NYU. After working on his own movies and those of others, he landed a job shooting production stills, which required a lot of sitting around, waiting for the weather and light to change. Since computers were the size of homes at the time and cell phones hadn’t even been invented, Herman couldn’t do what we do and whip out his iPhone to pretend to text people. So instead he spent much of his downtime exploring, with camera in tow, capturing the scene around him—and, in doing so, finding solace—on the streets and in the subways of New York City.

“Photography was my intermediary between me and the world. I was trying to find peace wandering the city. After a while you get in a Zen space and the world slows down,” he told The New York Times. “When you’re an outsider, you notice things that other people just walk by.” Capturing these moments with packs of Kodachrome film became his own outlet to explore the city, eventually resulting in a visual catalogue called The New Yorkers. Slide through the gallery above to check out the best scenes of 1980s New York from Herman’s collection.

Stay tuned to Milk for more 1980s New York.

Images via Robert Herman.

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