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90s Throwback: My Street Photos of New York City


The streets of New York City as a photo studio. That is the idea. Nearly 9 million people live in New York and another nearly 2 million travel to New York every day, so the streets are bursting with people.

Back then, New York looked completely different than it does today: the World Trade Center was still standing, the cars were big and square, and the gentrification of Brooklyn had not yet begun.

I was in New York with two friends in 1994, shortly after passing my high school diploma. We slept in a hostel and were so stupid to travel to New York in July. Only after our arrival did we realize that New York is unbearably hot in summer. So we always slept (if it ever came to that) with open windows at night and thus learned that New York is indeed the city that never sleeps.

The sound of New York is still ringing in my ears when I think back to that time. All night long we heard the sirens of police cars and ambulances that we had only seen in American series before. Until late into the night the Indian cab drivers raced through the city honking their big limousines.

You could go to a different club every night, the day of the week did not matter at all. The wildest parties in town took place in a discarded church. Awesome!

Since the Internet was still in its early days, people met in record stores during the day to exchange ideas and to network. Flyers informed about the next party and the DJs of the last night offered their mixtapes at a low price (yes, audio cassettes). The club scene seemed like one big family to me.

During the day we were intoxicated by the size and dynamics of this incredible city. Smoking gullies, hungry hot dog sellers, Flavor Flav from Public Enemy in the same record store as me, subways full of graffiti and without functioning ceiling lighting, bankers rushing around, dreamy New Jersey as a blatant alternative to New York City. You never forget such impressions.

Of course, photography was different back then, too: Instead of memory cards, there were films. Only after returning home did people know if the photos had turned out well. Actually, you only knew if you were expecting color photos or black and white. The photographic process took place without readjustment. There was only pointing, shooting, and praying. That was it. It all had its charm somehow.

At this time, I had other priorities than photography, but I took my first street photos at that time. At that time I didn’t even know that there is such a thing as street photography. I simply took pictures of what I was interested in. It has remained that way until today.

Street photos don’t have to tell stories, even if this is claimed again and again. Good street photography should arouse the interest of the viewer and provide an insight into a subculture, a city, or a district. Good street photos are like good wine: they get better and better over the years. What seems banal today has a documentary character 20 years later and shows the next generation what it was like then.

In this sense, I am showing selected pictures from this crazy time here. All photos were taken with an analog Yashica SLR camera.

About the author: Mirko Karsch is an urban and street photographer based in Berlin, Germany. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Karsch’s work on his website and Instagram.