This post contains nudity.
The 1969 Woodstock Festival is a pretty great place for a new photographer to find inspirartion. Arlene Gottfried went to the historic event with her friends and a gift from her father: a small 35 mm camera that once belonged to her uncle.
Of course, the festival was a “tough act to follow.” Fortunately for the Brooklyn native, there was plenty to see and photograph in her own backyard. New York City’s residents in the 1970s and ’80s were a diverse group of characters, and Gottfried spent a lot of time documenting them in places like Coney Island and Brighton Beach, as well as the storied clubs of Manhattan and the numerous parades and events that took place around town.
“It was very rich then,” Gottfried said about the often-romanticized era of New York City. “It was very diverse. It still is in some respects, you see a lot of different people, but it’s not the same.” She still lives in New York and finds that the rising rents and rapid gentrification of neighborhoods have blighted the dynamic, almost mythological energy that once defined New York.
“It’s so different now,” she said. “It’s almost impossible to describe how it was and the new New York City, how it evolved to what it is now, we’ve lost so many little businesses that gave it color. You used to know the people who ran the shops and there was a lot more grit and interesting textural backgrounds for all the different kinds of people you saw on the street.”
Gottfried didn’t shoot every day, but she was often with her camera, sometimes two of them—one loaded with color film, the other with black-and-white film. A mix of about 30 of those images, many from her book Sometimes Overwhelming, will be on view at Daniel Cooney Gallery through Dec. 20.
While Gottfried considers herself shy, like many photographers, once the camera was in her hand, it acted like a shield with which she felt comfortable approaching strangers to ask permission to take their picture.
“If I wanted to take a picture, I would just ask the people. I don’t do it as much now; now I just shoot and don’t ask people, but back then they were looking right at me and they were close to me so they were in agreement obviously!”