New York in the 1970s: the gritty photographs of Camilo José Vergara,

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There’s something fascinating about 1970s New York – and it’s a subject we keep coming back to in Umbrella
 
We’re not saying it’s better than today – getting mugged or shot on Avenue A isn’t much fun whether it’s near Lou Reed’s flat or not – but it was certainly more interesting. Want proof? Then check out the photographs of Chilean photographer Camilo José Vergara, who moved to the city in 1968. 
 
While studying for a masters degree in sociology, Vergara started to photograph new York – looking at its neighbourhoods with the dispassionate eye of the social scientist. In places like East Harlem and the South Bronx he captured a city on the edge. Decimated by the road building projects of planner Robert Moses – which ferried out the white middle class to the suburbs – the only people who remained were those couldn’t afford to leave or those who felt unwelcome everywhere else.
 
And while there’s nothing glamorous about kids playing surrounded by broken glass and dog mess, New York of the 1970s did have something: that essential ’New Yorkness’ which only comes from a city full of people who’ve grown up there. People did say ‘cwoffee’ then – that was the accent. Now it’s disappearing, replaced a by a bland American-ese devoid of place or class, just as cockney has been wiped out in London.
 
There’s no doubt NYC then would have been a tough place to live, but also a vibrant, fascinating and unique one – completely at odds with the rest of the USA. And all the better for it.
 
 







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