Renowned photographer Edward Grazda began his career in that version of NYC. The black and white photos in Mean Streets offer a look at that desolate era captured with the deliberate and elegant eye that propelled Grazda to further success. It’s a version of New York that has been all but scrubbed clean in the financially solvent years that have followed, but the character of the city has been indelibly marked by the scars of those years.
In the late 1970s and early 80s, the institutions of power in New York had failed. A bankrupt city government had sold its power over to the banks, and the financiers’ severe austerity programs gutted the city’s support systems.
Most of the city’s traditional industries had already left, and those power brokers in charge of the new system retreated to their high rises and left the streets to the hustlers, preachers, and bums; the workers struggling to get by; and a new generation of artists who were squatting in the empty industrial buildings downtown and bearing witness to the urban decay and institutional abandonment all around them.
For the tough and determined, the quick and the gifted, the prescient and the prolific, a cheap living could be scratched out in the mean streets.