New York City in 1980

Curators’ Corner

New York City in 1980

Longtime New Yorkers will tell you that New York wasn’t always one of the safest big cities in America.

“The late 1970s and early 1980s — when buildings were burning, fiscal crises were raging and the Dead Boys were playing at CBGB — were a macabre time in New York City’s history, a period when it could be said that the city resembled a haunted house,” writes the New York Times.

Make no mistake; present-day NYC still holds a fist full of grit strangely close to its heart. But a subway ride, for example, is drastically different in 2015 than it was during the hellish period the Times refers to, when there were more than 250 crimes committed every week in the subway system alone.

Or, how about a stroll through beautiful Bryant Park? You’d have a hard time believing that it once carried the chilling nickname, “Needle Park” for being a hub of drugs, prostitution and gang violence.

Into the chaos stepped Dutch tourist Ed Sijmons, visiting for the first time with his wife, Louise LH. Sijmons expected a “tough, rough and crimeful place,” he told the Huffington Post. Indeed it was; that year actually saw New York’s peak crime of the decade, with 1,814 homicides.

But, as the couple wandered the city’s downtrodden streets, it turned out that they found “no trouble at all.” Sijmons took hundreds of photos over the course of two weeks, capturing a stark juxtaposition of eeriness and classic New York romanticism.

As Sijmons prepares to visit New York for the first time since that visit, he has released his photos via a Flickr page and photo essay in the Tribeca Citizen. From Chinatown and the Village, down to FiDi and the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers, and even out to a much emptier Long Island City, the images speak to New York’s uncanny nature of somehow staying the same in many ways while changing in many others.

We hope Sijmons captures his upcoming trip in similar fashion. In the meantime, here are a few of our favorite 1980 shots below.








All images © Ed Sijmons