1980s NYC Looked Like an Apocalyptic Disaster Film

There have been many movies made featuring an apocalyptic NYC, but in the 1980s the reality wasn’t too far off. With the city’s legendary graffiti problem, metro trains completely destroyed, and areas like the South Bronx and Bushwick in states of disarray, you could almost see Kurt Russel’s Escape from New York coming true.

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Steven Siegel walked the streets of New York in that era, capturing the dark and grimy corners on film in images that are shocking to see compared to the cleaned up city we know today. That’s not all a good thing. He reminisces about what the city was in an interview with Gothamist:

New York in the 1980s differed in two fundamental ways from the New York of today. First, 1980s-era New York was an edgier, riskier, dirtier, tenser, more dangerous and chaotic place. I think that fairly comes through in my images. Second, 1980s-era New York had a sense of wide-openess and freedom that was lost following 9/11 … and likely never will be regained.

Notice how these two fundamental changes overlap in a number of important ways. A safer city, to some extent, comes at the price of a loss of freedom and openess. Conversely, the edginess and riskiness of the 1980s came at an appalling human and social cost. My photos of South Bronx and Bushwick are—if I might say so—a testament to that. Those who might be nostalgic for the edginess and riskiness of the 1980s were surely not the people who were growing up in the South Bronx and Bushwick in the era.

Many of Siegel’s images were captured in areas that today are off limits to the public: the top of bridges, empty fields. While the city is far more safe today, it’s not quite the adventure it used to be. See more incredible images on Steven Siegel’s Flickr page.

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