15 photos that show what the streets of New York City looked like in the 1980s

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Central Park, Anti-nuke rally, 1982
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Carrie Boretz

From a young age, Carrie Boretz was fascinated with photographing everyday life on city streets. From 1975 to 1998, she shot the streets of New York City, finding inspiration in each scene she photographed.

“I was never drawn to photographing my friends or family, but more often strangers,” Boretz told Business Insider.

She compiled the photos she took over three decades – the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s – and is publishing them in an upcoming book called “Street“. Boretz is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to finance its publication. Below, see her favorite selection of photos from the 1980s, an interesting time in New York City’s history.


Boretz began shooting the streets of New York City during a photography internship with the Village Voice in 1975.

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Anti-Nuke rally, Central Park, 1982
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Carrie Boretz

“[Photography was] a way of life for me,” Boretz said. “Often no specific story, no angle, just walking down a street and tripping over the extraordinary moment within the ordinary scene.”

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Homeless men sleeping on an abandoned cot in the West Village, 1984
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Carrie Boretz

Boretz has always been drawn to the natural behavior of ordinary people.

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#7 Subway line, Queens, 1984
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Carrie Boretz

“Nothing extraordinary, nothing glamorous. This was exciting to me. To find the gems amidst the mundane,” Boretz said.

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NY Auto Show, 1983
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Carrie Boretz

She rarely ran into any issues while photographing strangers in New York City.

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Couple on subway, 1980
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Carrie Boretz

“It was an easier time to shoot, in a way,” Boretz said. “Certainly, less people had cameras on them, but the subjects were more involved in what they were doing. I was also quick and blended in well.”

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50th Street and Lexington Ave. 1980
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Carrie Boretz

When photographing strangers, Boretz would usually talk to her subjects for a while, then photograph them after their conversation. Sometimes she would instead be cautious and pretend she was photographing something or someone else.

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Memorial for John Lennon outside the Dakota, West 72nd street, 1980
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Carrie Boretz

“I tried to take a back seat and just let the scenes before me unfold in a natural way,” Boretz said.

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Staten Island Ferry, NY Harbor, 1981
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Carrie Boretz

She captured all of these photos on a Nikon FM Manual film camera.

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Nightclub, West 40s, 1980
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Carrie Boretz

Boretz described the ’80s as “pretty similar to the one before and the one after.”

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Fifth Ave, 1980
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Carrie Boretz

“Those years were filled with grit, and graffiti. A rawness that was beautiful, sad and real,” Boretz said.

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George Steinbrenner, Waldorf-Astoria, 1982
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Carrie Boretz

Her collection of negatives remained untouched for years.

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14th Street and 7th Avenue, 1987
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Carrie Boretz

Finally, she decided to turn her series into a book. She spent four years scanning, editing, and sequencing to create the perfect story for her book.

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50th Street and Lexington Avenue, 1980
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Carrie Boretz

While compiling the book, she originally laid out the images in chronological order. However, she realized that she didn’t want to define the streets of New York simply by the decades, so she ended up mixing the photos together. This created a cohesive look at the streets of New York City, regardless of when the photos were taken.

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Central Park, Anti-nuke rally, 1982
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Carrie Boretz

Boretz photographs with emotion in her mind. She was always motivated to capture a deeper meaning, making her audience look at ordinary scenes differently.

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Ella, teenage mother, Brooklyn, 1983
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Carrie Boretz