In the late 1970s and early '80s, the institutions of power in New York had failed. A bankrupt city government had sold its power over to the banks, and the financiers' severe austerity schemes gutted the Big Apple's support systems.
Most of New York's traditional industries had already left, and those power brokers in charge of the new system retreated to their high-rises and left the streets to the hustlers, preachers, and bums; the workers struggling to get by; and a new generation of artists who were squatting in the empty industrial buildings downtown and bearing witness to the urban decay and institutional abandonment all around them.
For the tough and determined, the quick and the gifted, the prescient and the prolific, a cheap living could be scratched out in the mean streets.
Renowned photographer Edward Grazda began his career in that version of NYC. It's a version of New York that has been all but scrubbed clean in the financially solvent years that have followed, but the character of the city has been indelibly marked by the scars of those years.
Now you can see some of Grazda's fascinating black-and-white photos of New York during that time in a new book called Mean Streets, with many images in print for the first time. Published by powerHouse Books, it offers a look at the infamously hardscrabble NYC of the '70s and '80s, captured with the deliberate and elegant eye that propelled Grazda to fame.
All images: From Mean Streets by Edward Grazda, published by powerHouse Books. Main image: Broadway & 55th Street 1970 | © Edward Grazda