Photographer Leland Bobbé misses an old New York. The New York when Times Square, as he puts it, "wasn’t a playground for Middle America and the Lower East Side didn’t look like the Upper East Side."
He misses the grit, the danger, the edge.
Specifically, Bobbé misses the New York City of the 1970s, when prostitutes paced the sidewalks, the Bowery was a bed for the homeless, and crime was everywhere.
(It would seem like a strange thing to miss, if there weren't so many others who miss it too.)
Bobbé hung around downtown in the 70s, playing in a band called City Lights, while photographing The Ramones and Patti Smith, among other big acts.
He also was a prolific street photographer, taking portraits of New Yorkers when they weren't looking.
We caught up with Bobbé via email for a short walk down memory lane.
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HP: Where in NYC were you living in the 70s and what was the neighborhood like?
LB: i lived at 2 different locations during the mid-seventies. initially i lived downtown below chinatown on beekman st. which then was then the fulton fish market and is now the south st. seaport area. i then moved into a loft on w 28th st between 6th ave and broadway where i still am today. i went from the fish market to the flower market. believe me, the flower market smells better especially in the summer . . .
HP: Do you miss the gritty and dangerous 70s in NYC?
LB: yes i do miss the way the city used to be. it had a very unique character when it wasn't so gentrified. i think being in my twenties at the time added to the allure of the way it was "back in the day".
HP: Are there any areas of NYC that you feel haven't completely lost their edge?
LB: off the top of my head i'd have to say that chinatown is the closest edgy neighborhood to be similar to what it was years ago. even little italy has shrunk down in size. the upper east and west side and even mid-town are pretty much the same, except for the influx of chain stores and banks but they never had an edge to begin with.
HP: Was it an artistic decision to shoot these photos from the hip, or just a matter of not wanting to ask people to take a photo of them?
LB: the only ones i shot from the hip were the times square images. for the type of images i wanted i didn't want to ask people to be photographed. i wanted to capture exactly what i was seeing without any awareness by the people that i was actually shooting them. i shot these as i was walking by with my shutter speeds set fast enough to avoid blur. with my wide angle lens(deep depth of field) pre-focused at about 6 feet. i had to judge my distance and maybe get off 2 or 3 shots as i was walking by. the exciting thing about shooting this way was that i was never really sure what i got until i processed the film.