Striking Black-and-White Photos of New York City’s ‘Mean Streets’ in the ’70s and ’80s

"In those days the streets belonged to the people."

Edward Grazda lived in a cheap loft on Bleecker Street when he began a career as a photographer. It was a different New York then, when rent was only $250 a month and the city streets were more of a communal space for characters from all walks of life.

“It’s a different world now on the streets of New York,” Grazda told the New York Times last month. “You don’t really own the streets. The streets are populated by people you don’t know. And they’re crowded.” Grazda documented New York from 1970 to 1985, capturing the scrappier side of the city. “People were using the streets and the sidewalk. In those days the streets belonged to the people. Guys could fix their cars on the street. Three-card-monte guys were working the streets. People hung out on the streets. That’s all gone.”

The newly published Mean Streets: NYC 1970-1985 by powerHouse Books collects Grazda’s black-and-white photos. From the publisher:

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.

Mean Streets: NYC 1970-1985 by Edward Grazda, published by powerHouse Books.