I came across these photos today in PAPER magazine: images of New York City, taken by Gregoire Alessandrini in the 1990s. (Alessandrini was, according to his website, “a film student and a young writer/photographer in the 1990s.”)
Christopher Street. All photo credits: Gregoire Alessandrini.
I remember New York during these days. I grew up 3 hours from the city, and visited with my mother who lived there in the 80s with my dad, while she attended the Fashion Institute of Technology and he the Culinary Institute of America. My mother knew the city well, and I’d tag along on trips while she picked up fabric or whatever (I was a pre-teen, so everything she did was boring).
I still visit New York sometimes when I’m on the East Coast, and I’ve noticed a big change during the time gap: Manhattan now feels like one single flashing television screen, blasting things into my face. The place offends me.
These images remind me of a quieter time in that city. But why do I feel like it was quieter?
Unknown location; some people might remember these gas prices.
Because while I loved looking through these photos, something struck me.
Location unknown; New Yorkers stand on street corner.
Nobody is holding mobile phones. No faces are obscured by people holding up iPhones to take photos or videos.
In fact, people are actually reading papers. Real ones.
Not even just phones – our experiences of, and the ways that we encountered music, were so different. Because the iPod wasn’t invented until 2001. In the 90s, New Yorkers walked down the street to the sound of the city and their own thoughts in their heads. (Unless they had a Walkman.)
As I scrolled through the images, I wondered about how the people passing through them entertained themselves without a squawking Bluetooth or streaming podcast to do it for them.
Location unknown. But does it matter where it was taken? How many of these same people would be holding phones if this photo were re-staged and re-taken now?
The world has changed a lot in just a few years, folks. It’s a little eerie to look back. And I’m turning off my computer now and opening a real book. I’ll probably have to dust off the cover.
Before you do the same, visit Alessandrini’s original archive. It’s a journey – make sure to get all six parts.