David W. Dunlap/The New York Times
The Brooklyn Bridge The walkway across the bridge was not divided into lanes for walkers and bikers in 1978. The financial district looks much the same, save for the absence of the twin towers.
Mind you, I didn’t set out to take vintage photos.
The assignment in 1978 was simply to illustrate “The City Observed: New York,” a guidebook to Manhattan by Paul Goldberger, who was then the architecture critic for The New York Times. (He is now the architecture critic for The New Yorker.) Paul instructed me to keep the pictures straightforward, documentary and as free of optical distortion as possible. He handed me a carbon copy of his manuscript as my guide, and off I went, with my Nikons and Plus-X film.
Because I can still remember what the weather was like on the days I took these pictures, what the city sounded and smelled like, I was startled to look through my contact sheets recently and realize how much Manhattan had changed. New York did not just crawl out of its near-collapse in the mid-70s, it had boomed almost without interruption. Towers were inserted. Landmarks were deleted. And even in cityscapes that looked unchanged, I knew that far wealthier occupants — residential and commercial — could now be found behind familiar old facades.
My editors and I thought that pairing photos from then and now would be a graphic way to examine the phenomenon of urban churn that so defines this city. The series will visit a dozen or so neighborhoods, uptown and downtown, before the end of 2008. Each diptych tells its own tale, but the overall story is clear: It doesn’t take much longer than a generation for New York to regenerate itself completely. DAVID W. DUNLAP