NYT Photo Exhibit Brings Us Back to 1978

If you have never been to modern day Central Park, let me paint the picture for you. Among the bright green lawns, well kept landscaping, and lakes filled with turtles, canoes, and tourists, everyone holds the same item: an iPhone.

Yes, you’ve heard it before—everyone in this day and age lives through a screen, technology takes away from real life, blah blah blah you get the point. But we do have to admit that there is something slightly unsettling about the fact that parks have become infested with selfie sticks and photo shoots; and quite frankly, there’s a certain disconnect from the real reason parks are there: to be with friends and family, and to appreciate nature.

The New York Times exhibit on the third floor of the Arsenal building in Central Park gives us a glimpse into the summer of 1978, depicting life unscathed by our current state of technology. The exhibit portrays New York City’s Parks at their best and worst. Best meaning the pictures capture a lot that is lost today; Pure connections, large community gatherings, engagement or as the NYT stated, “life uncurated.” Worst meaning the conditions of the actual parks themselves: according to the information at the exhibit, New York City was facing a fiscal crisis, leaving the “park system in extreme distress.” Central Park’s “Sheep Meadow was a dust bowl, public pools were shattered and understaffed, graffiti was rampant.”

Capturing perms, short-shorts, drum circles, pot smokers, and loads of rowdy children, the pictures present New York life in the late 70’s. Civic centers such as Manhattan’s Central Park, Randall’s Island, Bronx’ beaches, public pools, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, Staten Island’s Boardwalk, and so on were the backbone of a common New Yorker’s social life.

Jonathan Kuhn, the NYC Parks Director of Art & Antiquities, had this to say about the exhibit: “It demonstrates that even in a time of fiscal hardship and distress to our parks that people of all walks of life engaged and came together in our parks.”

With photos of sunbathers, playground’s flooded with children, and multiple intimate moments, the photographers truly captured the role these places played in many New Yorker’s lives. “As the photos of 1978 demonstrate, our parks are essential to civic life, and should never be taken for granted for.” said the New York Times.

Audrey, a mother and New Yorker visiting the exhibit, stated “The reason why I wanted to bring my kids to the exhibit was because I wanted them to see what it was like while I grew up. It’s a foreign city now.” The New York Times has often referred to the photo project as a “time capsule.”



Featured Image via: Wikimedia Commons


Chelsea Jones
I'm a writer, activist, music lover, and all around people person.