A new exhibition looks back on the anarchic energy of New York City, reminding us of the impact individuals can have on social change
‘Whose Streets? Our Streets!’: New York City, 1980-2000 will be showing at the Bronx Documentary Center, New York City, between 14 January and 5 March
New York’s streets were turbulent in the 1980s and 1990s, as residents marched, demonstrated, and rioted in response to social changes in their city as well as national and international developments. The profoundly unequal economic recovery of the 1980s, dependent upon investment banking and high-end real estate development, led to heated contests over space and city services, as housing activists opposed gentrification and called attention to the plight of thousands of homeless New Yorkers. Immigration made New York City much more diverse, but a significant proportion of white New Yorkers opposed civil rights and acted to maintain racial segregation.
Attempts to combat the high crime rates of the 1970s and early 1980s exacerbated concerns about police brutality, as innocent black and Latino New Yorkers died at the hands of the police. The culture wars wracking the nation had particular resonance in New York, a center of avant-garde art as well as of gay and lesbian and feminist activism, on the one hand, and home of the Vatican’s spokesman in the U.S., Cardinal John O’Connor, and a significant culturally conservative Roman Catholic population on the other.
A cohort of photographers, born between 1950 and 1970, committed themselves to documenting these struggles for social change as they unfolded. Progressive and independent, some published their work in The Village Voice, the nation’s first alternative newsweekly, and some joined the cooperative photo agency Impact Visuals, dedicated to social documentary photography. Collectively, their photographs, which have never before been exhibited together, chronicle New York’s history from 1980-2000.