I just got back from visiting my parents in Mexico. It’s an annual pilgrimage, as they leave Taos for a tropical climate each winter.
Every time, though, like the Brady Bunch’s vacation in Hawaii, things always go horribly wrong.
Two years ago, I wrote about how my wife and I were nearly dragged out to sea when we swam during a storm’s aftermath. Another year, we drove across the Rocky Mountains, during a blizzard at 2am, on the way home from the airport.
There’s always an undercurrent of drama, unfortunately, and this year was no exception. Among other problems, I got a horrible stomach virus that had me puking through the night, and then our car died on the highway driving back from the airport in Albuquerque.
It’s been a trying week, to be sure.
But it’s always difficult visiting Playa del Carmen, as what was a sleepy beach town 15 years ago has since morphed into a bustling city of more than 200,000 people. My brain remembers previous incarnations, back when it was quiet, and the ocean was still clean, but there’s no avoiding the reality that Playa is now a thriving metropolis, with all its attendant problems.
Cities have street life. Pollution. Noise. Constant activity.
They allow one to people-watch, as the urban narrative plays out in real time. Stand on a corner, watch the Euro ravers walk by. Wait a minute, and there’s an elderly Mexican grandma wearing a Señor Frog’s T-shirt.
Jackhammers wail everywhere, as the growing city is under continuous construction. There are parts of Playa del Carmen that have changed so radically, it’s hard to reconcile what I see with what I know to have existed.
It reminds me of New York, in some ways, as I grew up just outside that great city, and my memories of day trips in the 70’s and 80’s are markedly different than the city I lived in from 2002-5. And now, in 2017, New York is about to enter an even stranger phase, as native (but hated) son Donald Trump turns The Big Apple into his personal vacation home for the next (hopefully) 4 years.
New York used to be New Amsterdam, but no relics from its 17th Century past remain. New York is constantly gentrifying, which is why Polish pickle stores in my former neighborhood, Greenpoint, are now cold-brew coffee shops for hirsute hipsters.
C’est la vie.
But you know this is a book review column, which makes it likely that some photo-book got me off of today’s tangent, right? Of course!
I just put down “The Eyes of the City,” a new photobook by Richard Sandler, recently published by powerhouse. The 70’s and 80’s vibe coursing through this production is so strong, I’m half expecting Ed Koch to pop out from under my bed and scream “Surprise! You’re on candid camera!”
(As Ed Koch is dead now, though, visions of Zombie Koch turn gruesome very quickly.)
Despite the typically florid introduction, this is a book that needs little explication. It’s a lengthy series of street pictures from a long ago, but the sweet spot captures NYC at it’s most dirty, dangerous and addictive.
The subways were covered with more graffiti than there are giant billboards in Times Square. Old men walked around in hats and trench coats, like they were all living in one giant London Fog commercial.
Legless street people rode skateboards, the Twin Towers loomed above the Financial District, and live sex shows advertised on street-side signs written in magic-marker.
So many New Yorkers are nostalgic for that era, back before internets and facebooks and hybrid cars. Back when danger meant getting mugged by some lowlife, as opposed to being blown up by a crazy terrorist.
As I’ve written countless times before, photography’s unique skill is to transport us through the space-time continuum. To allow us, even briefly, to enter chambers in our consciousness where the dead still live, and trains never run on time.
This book does that for me, and given New York’s oversized place in global culture, I’m betting you’ll dig it as well.
Bottom Line: Really cool photos of New York, back when it was dingy
To Purchase “The Eyes of the City” Go Here: http://www.powerhousebooks.com/books/the-eyes-of-the-city/