The big picture: a glimpse of tenderness in New York, 1980
British photographer Bob Watkins captures a little moment of intimacy in the heat and noise of the Big Apple
Bob Watkins took this photograph of a couple in New York on his first visit to the city from England in August 1980. In the years before Mayor Giuliani’s zero-tolerance crackdown on crime, and the advance of gentrification, the city was a place of maximum tolerance, where anything could happen at any moment. For Watkins, who had specialised in photographing the ironies of Englishness and its traditions, this was both a challenge and a liberation.
That summer, he recalls, in a monograph of his pictures from that time, “both the city and myself were out of money and there was a sense of danger on every corner. Emerging from the subway on to Fifth Avenue for the first time I was assaulted by the humidity, stench and magnitude of that canyon. It was like stepping into Springsteen’s Born to Run album. Garbage and broken people filled the streets as I walked the same sidewalks as my photographic heroes and drank Dr Pepper to replace the sweat.” There were moments where the energy of the streets coalesced – “Democratic Convention rallies and Iranian hostage demonstrations added extra visual opportunities,” Watkins recalls, but it was the unpredictability of those streets that he remembers most clearly.