This Week In Photography Books: Richard Sandler

by Jonathan Blaustein

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:

























Jonathan Blaustein

There Are 5 Comments On This Article.

  1. I love your writing style, Jonathan. Having lived in New York City from 1987-97, you sucked me right back to the charm (perceived or otherwise) of that time in my life. The book captures a mysterious atmosphere that is inherently New Yorkian, no matter the era.

    Your review and your thoughts on the Big Apple, were a nice way to start my day.


  2. This was my NY, the one I grew up in, the one I too had to leave before I in turn became one of the old babbling wretches on a street corner that grace the pages of this wonderful book. It is indeed strange how one looks back so nostalgically on this NY, as does a child on a broken home with negligent, abusive parents.

    Had I not left, this NYC would still be as alien to me as had I remained. It is “safer,” but for whom? Certainly not for the people that deserved it most after so many years of struggle. It was made safe for those that could move in and afford its new found wealth and safety. It is a New York lost to time, as are countless New York’s before it.

    This book stands as proud testament to the time and place that was that NY, when people made it what it was, were the life of it, much as anything else.

    It’s still NY; ever changing, never owing anyone, anything. You give it your heart, and it takes it as its own without reciprocity. To the delight of many, it has much transformed itself into yet another anonymous gentrification. Hopefully, it’s but another transition, to be quickly cast off before coming unto its own once again.

    • Yeah, Stan, it is a completely different place. 2017 NYC has as much in common with 1977 NYC as it does with New Amsterdam. FYI, check back this Friday, as we push the NYC theme a bit further.

  3. You made me discover a great photographer. Going to preorder the book and share it with my students. I bought several book you suggested in the past. You should thing about some affiliation program. You deserve something for the great job you are doing with your journal.