If you have never been to modern day Central Park- let me paint the picture for you. Amidst the bright green lawns, well-kept landscaping, and lakes filled with turtles, canoes, and tourists, everyone holds the same item, an iPhone! Yes, you’ve heard it before, everyone in this day and age lives through a screen, technology takes away from real life, blah bidy blah you get it. But we do have to admit that there is something slightly unsettling about the fact that parks, a place made for community or as past park commissioner Robert Moses likes to put it “the outward symbol of democracy”, have become places rampant with selfie sticks, photo shoots, and quite frankly a disconnect from the real reason they are there, to be with friends and respect nature. 

The New York Times exhibit, now being shown on the third floor of the Arsenal building in Central Park, gives us a glimpse in to the summer of 1978, depicting life unscathed by our current state of technology. The exhibit captures New York City’s Parks at their best and worst. Best meaning the pictures capture a lot that is lost today; Pure connections, large community gatherings, engagement or as the NYT stated, “life uncurated”. Worst meaning- the conditions of the actual parks themselves. According to the information given out at the exhibit, New York City was facing a fiscal crisis leaving “a park system in extreme distress. Central Park Sheep Meadow was a dust bowl, public pools were shattered and understaffed, graffiti was rampant.”

Capturing perms, short-shorts, drum circles, pot smokers, and loads of rowdy children, the pictures create a narrative of New York life in the late 70’s. City run centers such as Manhattan’s Central Park, Randall’s Island, Bronx’ beaches, public pools, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, Staten Island’s Boardwalk, and so on were the backbone of the common New Yorker’s social life. Jonathan Kuhn, the NYC Parks Director of Art & Antiquities, made a well spoken remark in regards to the work at this exhibit. “It demonstrates that even in a time of fiscal hardship and distress to our parks that people of all walks of life engaged and came together in our parks.”

With photos of sunbathers, playground’s flooded with children, and multiple intimate moments, the photographers truly captured the role these parks played in many New Yorker’s lives, a place to connect. “As the photos of 1978 demonstrate, our parks are essential to civic life, and should never be taken for granted for.” stated the NYT.

The photo project creates insight as to how much New York Life differs compared to today. Audrey, a mother and New Yorker visiting the exhibit, stated “The reason why I wanted to bring my kids to the exhibit was because I wanted them to see what it was like while I grew up. It’s a foreign city now.” The New York Times has often referred to the photo project as a “time capsule”, and in reality it is.

These photos taken in the summer of 1978 have not been touched for forty years. Two cardboard boxes were found while a New York Times worker was cleaning out an office. The photos were taken during the fringe of financial hardship for the city as a whole, and the New York Times themselves. Due to labor disputes between union workers and the press corporations, a strike went on from August until November. Although the workers and administration were not on good terms the former photo editor and eight photographers from the New York Times were granted permission to work. They were given the task of photographing the crumbling park’s system. The outcome of the photo project were images of life uninterrupted, truthful moments, that captured the essence of New York’s reality.