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Chronicling the Dark, Seedy Underbelly of 1980s New York

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Brooklyn-born photographer Ken Schles moved to Alphabet City in 1983, and his apartment was pretty dark—literally. His landlord insisted on boarded-up windows because "junkies could steal the gates with a crowbar." So Schler did what any shutterbug would do: set up a darkroom in the light-starved space. The, er, atmospheric environment also included a heroin addict who lived downstairs and welcomed dealers and users to shoot up on the premises, and the carbon monoxide-spewing boiler that the city had to shut down. With such gripping, gritty scenes literally in his backyard, Schles had no choice but to capture them. Burning tenements; nighttime revelry and debauchery; vacant lots.

His work was originally published in a 1988 collection called Invisible City, and more emerged in a companion piece, Night Walk, which came out just last year. "I don't pine for the days when I'd drive down the Bowery and have to lock the doors, or having to step over the junkies or finding the door bashed in because heroin dealers decided they wanted to set up a shooting gallery," he told the Times. "A lot of dysfunction has been romanticized." Until mid-March, 40 of his prints were on view at the Howard Greenberg Gallery in Midtown. Take a peek.


· Ken Schles [official]
· Howard Greenberg Gallery [official]
· The East Village, in the 1980s and Looking Back [NYT]