Here is a short review of a book of photo- journalism by the acclaimed photographer Allan Tannenbaum, of NYC in the ’70. Tannenbaum was a photojournalist with the SoHo Weekly News for years, becoming their photo editor, and he also worked for Newsweek, Time, Paris Match, Stern and others. It’s out on April 24th on Duckworth, though it was also published a year ago.
New York in the ’70s – Allan Tannenbaum, Preface by Yoko Ono
Reviewed by Leyla Sanai
In the same month that sees the publication of *Dominic Sandbrook’s indictment of grim Britain in the ’70s, Seasons in the Sun, a more decadent reading of the decade is glimpsed in photographer Allan Tannenbaum’s pictorial record of events in New York City during that time. Tannenbaum was a photo-journalist on the SoHo Weekly News, rising to Pictures Editor, and his work has also graced the pages of international publications like Newsweek, Time and Paris Match.
The opening paragraphs, by Yoko Ono, are followed by a foreword by P.J. O’Rourke and an introduction by Tannenbaum, in which he paints a picture of the Big – and Bruised – Apple in the ’70s and early ’80s. He deftly sketches the political climate of the time: the Vietnam War and Watergate had sapped public morale; the economic doldrums, high inflation, and abject poverty in many areas caused more misery. Yet despite this, there was a surge of creativity and optimism in the cultural world.
The book is divided into six sections. Man God Law consists of photos of many of the NYC *political idols of the time – Mayor Koch, who brought about an improvement in crime rates; Ronald Reagan, the B- movie actor turned Republican governor who became President in 1980 and ’84; religious figureheads like Rabbi Menachem Schneerson and the Moonies; and political movements of the era, such as Gay Pride. It also documents the life led by the poor and homeless, sleeping on street corners. By contrast, the icons of New York surge optimistically from the skyline – the World Trade Centre, the Flatiron Building, the Empire State Building. And the advances the city was making on the world stage are exemplified by photos of the first antenna for cable TV, and of Concorde.
Although Tannenbaum was deeply politically conscious, most of the photos in this collection are concerned with cultural events in the city. The five remaining chapters are entitled Mondo Art, Show Biz, Music, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and Nightlife. The artists include Beuys, Rauschenberg, Johns and Oldenburg, who worked prolifically in the capital, as well as the city’s favourite hipster Warhol. A startling photo of the surrealist genius Salvador Dali, on a visit to NY, shows him juxtaposed next to a mirror, the bizarre appearance of his characteristic wide-eyed stare and upward twirling moustache contrasting with the vulnerability of his reflected bald patch.
The Showbiz section captures intimate moments during filming on set – Woody Allen directing Meryl Streep, Coppola peering into the camera during filming of The Godfather ll. These are not the official photos studios release but snatched moments offguard – Travolta strutting his groove while promoting Saturday Night Fever, Sissy Spacek cuddling her dog, Jack Nicholson leaving a nightclub with Linda Ronstadt.
The 1970s were a decade of great musical shifts, with the dinosaur rock of the ’60s giving way to the sneering attitude and energy of The Stones and then the blast of punk, with the Bowery club CBGB’s hosting many of the seminal punk artists of the day – Television, Ramones, *Patti Smith, Talking Heads, Blondie. Tannenbaum seemed to have the ability to be at the cusp of every story, there at the gigs, there to snap the body bags of first Nancy Spungen and then her alleged killer, Sex Pistol Sid Vicious.
The chapter on John Lennon and Yoko Ono includes a poignant shot of Ono in Central Park after Lennon’s assassination, her eyes shielded by dark glasses, her fur coat unable to stop her shivering.
The Nightclubs section is the least interesting, mainly because apart from Studio 54, many of the clubs were locations for unfettered nudity and promiscuity. Once you’ve seen one topless broad on a white horse, you’ve seen them all.
Tannenbaum’s volume is a perfect coffee table book for enfants terribles of un age certain. Nowadays the glass coffee table is more likely to be used for smoothies than illicit substances, but this is an adrenaline-packed nostalgia trip.