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January 3, 2023

Old and ‘Real’ New York: 36 Vintage Photos Capture the Gritty Scenes of NYC Street Life in the 1970s

Camilo José Vergara was born in Santiago, Chile, in 1944. Although he was born into an affluent family, Vergara’s life and work is shaped by his family’s financial decline and his experiences of poverty as a teenager. At the age of 21, with the assistance of extended family members, he moved to the United States for his undergraduate and graduate degrees.

South Bronx, 1970.

Vergara moved to New York City in 1968, after completing his sociology degree at Notre Dame. When Vergara first picked up a camera in the early 1970s, he focused on the people who lived in the physically ruined neighborhoods and the gritty streets of the South Bronx and Lower East Side. Using his camera as a mean to document the continuity and change in U.S. urban spaces, Vergara is especially interested in the built environment including ruins, housing projects, prison and drug treatment facilities, transportation and industrial corridors, and areas undergoing gentrification.

About this early series, now called Old New York, he later said “the images of the physical communities in which people live often better reveal the choices made by residents and city officials over the long haul.” Take a look back at New York in the 1970s through these 36 pictures taken by Vergara below:

Fifth Ave. at 110th St., E. Harlem, 1970.

Brooklyn, 1970.

Hoe Avenue at 172nd St., Bronx, 1970.

View of the World Trade Center under construction from Duane Street, Manhattan, 1970.

Melrose Section, South Bronx, 1970.

Honeywell at 178th St. S. Bronx, 1970.

Catholic Priest and homeless man, Bronx, 1970.

Cadillac Fleetwood, Harlem, 1970.

S. Bronx, by the Cross Bronx Expressway East, 1970.

South Bronx, 1970.

Avenue C, Lower East Side, 1970.

Bronx River, Bronx, 1970.

Eagle Ave. at Westchester Ave., Bronx, 1970.

Hunts Point, South Bronx, 1970.

Bronx, New York, 1977.

172 Delancey Ave., New York, 1970.

Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 1970.

Lower East Side, 1970.

Militant display, Window, Bushwick Brooklyn, 1970.

Girls and Barbies, East Harlem, 1970.

Bolivian Indian, 1355 Park Ave., Harlem, 1970.

Watching a Socialist Workers Party march, Lower East Side, 1970.

Lower East Side music shop, 1970.

Lower East Side, 1970.

Puerto Rican Wedding, East Harlem, 1970.

East Harlem, 1970.

South Bronx, 1970.

Lower East Side, 1970.

Stripped Pontiac LeMans under the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan, 1970.

On the way to Harlem, 1970.

Commodore Theater, Broadway at Rodney, Brooklyn, 1970.

Coney Island, Brooklyn, 1971.

Garage, Bushwick, Brooklyn, 1971.

Sin Sabor No Hay Nada, E. 123rd. St. at Lexington Ave., Harlem, 1977.

West Indian man, Far Rockaway, Queens, 1978.


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