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August 26, 2013

43 Amazing Color Photographs of New York City in the 1970s

From the time he arrived in the United States from Chile as a college student in 1965, the photographer Camilo José Vergara has been haunting, and haunted by, American cities.

Vergara began as a humanistic New York street photographer in the early 1970s, when he moved to the city. This work changed significantly in the middle 1970s, when graduate work in sociology at Columbia University increasingly sensitized him to the complexities of environmental influences on social behavior.

The advent of Kodachrome 64 film in 1974 alerted Vergara to the possibilities of permanent color photographic records of changing urban landscapes and their features. He began at that time to work systematically, using techniques adapted from sociological methodologies; traveling from one subway stop to the next, he would emerge onto the street and then photograph the surrounding blocks, fanning steadily outward.

By 1977, he had come upon a rough approximation of his lifelong working method, returning to the same locales over time to photograph changes in the makeup of the communities in question.

With more than a decade of photographs to document the extraordinary phenomenon of de-urbanization (including the conversion of buildings from one function to a second, then a third, before their abandonment, and the process by which nature recolonized long-urban areas), Vergara published The New American Ghetto with Rutgers University Press, for which he received the Robert E. Park Award of the American Sociological Association in 1997.

An abandoned car on the street. South Bronx.

Scrap metal collectors on the way to Harlem, 1970.

Children in the South Bronx, 1970.

East Harlem, 1970.

Children play in the street of the South Bronx, 1971.

View of Brownsville from the Sutter Ave. stop on the L line, Brooklyn, 1978

Children with dog. Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 1970.

Dolls in the window. South Bronx, 1970.

Teenagers in the Melrose Section, South Bronx, 1970

Old people. Lower East Side, Manhattan, 1970.

The boy from the South Bronx, 1970

S. Bronx, By Cross Bronx Expressway east, 1970.

E. 158 St. by 3rd Ave., Bronx, 1978.

Lower East Side, 1970.

View from the Manhattan Bridge, 1970.

WTC towers under construction, 1970.

View SW from the foot of the Manhattan Bridge, Brooklyn, 1971

View from abandoned pier, Jersey City, New Jersey, 1970.

Pier with old subway cars in South Brooklyn, 1970.

Bronx Queen and number 6 subway, Bronx River 1970.

Lower East Side.

Lower East Side.

Lower East Side.

School children and dogs. Bronx.

Parachute jump, Coney Island, Brooklyn, 1970.

Houses on Fifth Avenue. East Harlem.

Abandoned and burned cars. Bronx.

In the subway. South Bronx.

View of the World Trade Center.

Bronx River. Bronx.

Drunk lying on the steps of a house in the South Bronx.

South Bronx.

Children play with a broken toy. Bronx.

Cadillac Fleetwood in Harlem.

Drunk on the street in the South Bronx.

Children drink water from a hydrant. Lower East Side.

South Bronx.

Puerto Rican wedding in East Harlem.

Children play with dolls in Votochnom Harlem.

A man is reading a newspaper. South Bronx.

South Bronx.

Children play on an abandoned car in the South Bronx.

(Photos by Camilo José Vergara)


  1. I'll always remember the astonishing amounts of trash along with the sweet aroma and yellow haze of leaded gasoline.

  2. Awesome pictures. But unfortunate the one with African American kids playing with all White Dolls is the one that sticks in my head... The unfortunate reality of looking at life through colored lenses. Interesting though. Love the ones with the World Trade Center.




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