Fantastical photos of 1980's New York

Creatively colored photos of early 1980's New York City evoke the fantasy and allure of that mythic place.

Curated by Jason Kravitz
August 08, 2019

New York City has long existed somewhere between archetype and actuality. Over a century of films, books, and pop culture have exemplified the rich culture of this iconic place.

While still true today, there are certain eras which evoke a kind of mythic status. In the early 1980's, New York was edgy, strange, a little dangerous, and the perfect place for a photographer to get lost.

Drawn by this allure, photographer Phil Morris beautifully embodies the melding of fantasy and reality though creatively colored photos he captured of the city during this distinctive period.

In Phil's own words...

I like the "new" New York City, but now it is so clean. Broadway, Times Square... I really don't recognize at all

Back then there were usually at least two or three drug peddlers per block, with porno theaters and shops around the square.

The smell of gyros was thick in the air and you could get a nice meal for $2.00 from the many carts that were in the area. It was unbelievably delicious to me!

I stayed right there in a massive hotel which I am sure does not exist any more... or at least I know that I could never find it again.

Once I was there in June and you could fry eggs on the sidewalk.

I walked far. All around the city, not really taking my safety into consideration.

For relief I stopped at fantastic, interesting, bars every couple of blocks as an excuse for a beer and some of the beautiful art there. Nobody had a smart phone and overall I met some very beautiful people. When they saw me carrying a camera, some of them helped with photos and became friends for many years.

It really was the time of my life. Nothing has compared to that special time capsule for me. That is why I show these photos of that beautiful planet of New York, early 1980's, before 1985.

Reimagining Rockefeller Plaza

Erected in 1934, the Gilded Prometheus statue by Paul Manship is located at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

Aside from the Statue of Liberty, this sculpture is one of the most famous statues in New York City.

Always exciting to visit this landmark and very close is Christies NYC gallery, which is highly recommended as one of my top places to visit in the city. You can see a lot of treasures there that are but a dream to get up as close to in a museum.

There are some people sitting on the ledge under the flags at the lower left, and this was one of my favorite images to work on, ever.

On Technique

While several of these were edited or colored on the computer, some are hand colored black and white prints, photographed photo collage prints, and in-camera filters. I primarily used a Rolleflex camera.

Years ago, starting in the eighties, I used Dr. Ph Martin's Synchromatic Watercolours which could be applied by airbrush, regular brushes, or cleaning tips. Q-tips were too low quality.

Less than a drop was used for instance on skin tones, using sepia, red, and yellow, just mixed with some water, not too much. Too much product and you could deep stain the photo paper.

I used silk finish Ilford Photo paper. Sepia was very good for skin and achieved the best results.

I always hoped to be discovered and work on the photos for the Interview magazine by Andy Warhol. Never happened, but when I look at the photos, I still I almost feel it did.

I did get a commission to photograph legendary drag performer Divine at Studio 54. Some of the photos from this shoot were widely circulated in newspapers and postcards.

This image was a hand colored in-camera double exposure shot on Kodak 100 Pan black and white film.

I was hooked on trying to take photos, and have them mass produced to put on postcards at the time, and I had my share. It was the main tourist had to get some item.

There were postcards everywhere and so many fantastic shops that just do not exist anymore.

Times have changed in so many ways from that exciting period.

Looking back, it was so much fun. A lifetime of fun.

See more of Phil's distinctive photography on Aminus3.

Originally published August 14, 2015

TOPICS: culture art humanity travel

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