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Bloom in New York

Updated: Jun 23


From next week at 207 Clinton Street, Lost City, a photo essay of a memoir of New York City in the 1980s. Opportunity to meet the photographer and purchase large and postcard size frameable prints of your favourite pictures.


Also exhibiting in the space is renowned New York artist Travis Egedy with his latest works.


Below are a selection of recollections by James Bloom from when he took the photographs forty years ago...


Couple Looking out toward Big Alice--

It was something of a theme of mine in those days trying to capture images of couples seemingly looking out toward a better future, something which I knew of then only through novels or films. This pair are on the western shore of Roosevelt Island, which was then still barely inhabited and somewhere to get away from the noise and haste of the City. The power station in the distance is the famous Big Alice, which is still in use today. The shot is vaguely reminiscent of a Soviet propaganda poster, which was ironic in that the subjects were speaking a Slavic language, which in that era meant that they had succeeded in getting out from behind the Iron Curtain to pursue the American Dream, the present death of which was still far off over the horizon.



Little Boy next to Muhammad Ali T-- When I caught sight of this small chap at a street market, he had his hands raised in imitation of Muhammad Ali on the shirt behind him, albeit gripping a Popsicle. When he noticed me about to take his picture, he got a tad embarrassed, which yielded another pose and expression almost as charming as the one I had just missed. Strange to think that this child must be a man nearly fifty years of age now.










Hungarian Immigrant Women on their Stoop-- Believe it or not, this was taken in the East 70s which, east of 3rd Avenue during the 1970s, were full of elderly immigrants from the from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire who mainly came to the City during the first three decades of the previous century. When this shot printed up nicely, I took two copies of it round to the building where these ladies lived and the one on the left invited me up for tea and poppy seed cake in her railroad flat, which looked as if it could've been in the backstreets of Budapest half a century earlier.







Homeless Street Performer-- This guy was a well known midtown street person/street performer around the southeast region of Central Park, usually in the shadow of the statue of General Sherman. Here though he is holding forth on the shore of the South Pound. Like his black analogue whose portrait I also recorded, he dramatically delivered free verse poetry that was not his own, albeit claiming that it was. He favored Allen Ginsberg but I also heard him crib Delmore Schwartz and others of that poetic ilk.






Car Repair in Fog below Williamsburg Bridge-- There's nothing quite like mist for bringing out the beauty of the three old downtown bridges over the East River. When I come to New York now, I never seem to see guys out in the streets working on their cars any longer. When this was taken, it was a fairly common sight, as were stripped or torched car carcasses down in Alphabet City, or around several areas in both Brooklyn and the Bronx. Of course, this is not only down to gentrification, but also to the fact that car repair is so much more difficult, due to the prevalence of electronic parts and computerized diagnostics.


Beach Bathroom Attendant-- During the summer after the Pandemic I went back to Coney Island for the first time in years. I was struck not only by how renovated it was, but also by how much the people I saw there were spruced up compared to how they'd looked in the latter decades of the last century. Whereas before a 'come as you are' ethos had prevailed, now there was an oppressive sense of everyone trying to look their best. I find the same sorry fate has befallen other venues associated with the outdoors or exercise from Central Park to gyms across the City. New York has fallen to the epoch of the facade.




Dapper Chap at Public Phone Bank-- There were more than 8,000 pay phones across New York City during the 1980s. The ones in Chinatown were modified to resemble pagodas. They were usually single or double but sometimes they were in banks of up to a dozen. This one was somewhere around Times Square. I took the guy's picture because he was wearing a blue beret and, if I recall rightly, was speaking French too. The last street payphones in New York were removed at the end of the 20-Teens and this guy must be gone at least a score of years now.





Girls Enjoying the Tilt-a-Whirl-- When I took this picture I had only lately transitioned from being a kid who found it fun to go on amusement park rides myself, to a novice adult who got more of a kick out of seeing kids having a great time on such rides. This classic ride is called the Tilt-a-Whirl and it was already over half a century old when I took this picture, which means it must be pushing a century now. Makes me think of Plutarch's parable-paradox of The Ship of Theseus...If, on its long, long voyage every timber of the ship has gradually been replaced, is it still the same ship? Which is, of course, a metaphor for personal identity. Am I still the same person who took this picture four decades ago, or who rode this ride half a century in the past?

 

James Bloom grew up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where he took up black and white photography in his mid-teens to break away from the limits of his social circle and the demands of his private education. He continued taking pictures around New York City until he left at the age of 22 to escape the seemingly inexorable fate of pursuing a career befitting his upbringing. To begin with, he worked his way around the world as a beekeeper, a library assistant, an English conversation coach, a water bailiff and, repeatedly, a waiter. During his late 20s, he served time in PR and hack business journalism, settling in his 30s into two dozen years of teaching English literature, history and philosophy, while raising a family and thereafter. His memoir, In Search of the Blue Duck (2020) is about his round the world trip in his early 20s. He currently lives in an old house in the historic center of Jerez, Spain with two rescue dogs and his artist wife, who motivated him to edit the best of his teen photography into New York in the 80s. His website is www.jamesbloom.org




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