Rocco’s Barber Shop c.1989 from 6×7 negative
Frank Sinatra c.1955 from original 2.25 negative
Back in the day, New York City was a collector’s paradise. Every weekend, empty parking lots would be transformed into bustling flea markets filled with vintage goods, from brocade covered antique chairs and velvet opera cloaks to crates of vinyl record albums and boxes of old photographs.
Through the 1970s and ‘80s, Williamsburg native Ray Simone would make his way around town, hitting up flea markets, street fairs, stoop sales and estate sales in search of old camera negatives documenting scenes of daily life in New York City. A professional photographer by trade, Simone had the eye and the ability to spot a classic scene of city life.
About ten years ago, Simone sat down with the negatives he had collected for years, and began to retouch and restore them in order to produce fine art prints. The result is an archive of original vintage fine art photographs that perfectly embodies the independent, energetic spirit of old New York. There are eight million stories in the naked city at any given moment, and Simone has brought thousands back to life, dating all the way back to the 1890s.
Simone’s archive is a veritable treasure trove that seamlessly combines history, style, and nostalgia into an old fashioned Manhattan highball. With a photographer’s eye for the decisive moment, Simone has restored a magical selection of images from yesteryear. Whether perusing portraits of Frank Sinatra or the Sex Pistols, checking out vintage scenes of women’s liberation during the Flapper era, or getting into the ring with Rocky Marciano or Muhammad Ali, a profound sense of continuity pervades.
Although New York’s ever changing landscape reminds us of the passage of time, of the latest in culture and technology that quickly becomes fodder for “remember when,” the photographs speak to a common character trait that can be found in all walks of life, whether gazing upon a local barber or Debbie Harry. It is a sense of pride and agency, a willingness to do whatever it takes to make it here. It is the kind of courage that comes with self-actualization so that whatever punches life may throw, you will most assuredly fight back.
Taken in full, the archive if a study of the ways in which photography bears witness, acts as evidence, and becomes more than an object of art – capturing a fleeting moment forever so that we may gaze continuously upon its contents, only to discover the more things change, the more they remain the same. The eternal human condition reveals itself in these tiny slices of life made over a century.
Broadhurst Theater c.1948 from original 4×5 negative
Car and Women 1921
The Will Mastin Trio w/ Sammy Davis Jr. c.1957 from original 2.25 negative
Times Square Celebration, date unknown
Miller’s Silver Palm Burlesk Revue, date unknown
All images: Courtesy of Ray Simone