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Ghosts of New York: Photographer Arlene Gottfried Captures Disappearing Gotham

Ask photographer Arlene Gottfried if she thinks the New York characters she’s shot for 40 years from Coney Island to Times Square and Harlem are freaks, and she bristles. “I don’t think they’re freaks, because then I’d be a freak, too.” With her little-girl Coney brogue (she and her brother, manic comic Gilbert, grew up there), old-soul eyes, and longtime avid membership in the Jerriese Johnson East Village Choir (she occasionally solos, she boasts), she’s a quiet defender of the grimily vibrant denizens of an older New York that’s disappearing daily. Now she’s their enshriner, too: Due out this week from powerHouse Books, Sometimes Overwhelming compiles images Gottfried took of the city in the seventies and eighties. An exhibit of Gottfried’s later work is also opening March 5 at the Alice Austen House Museum on Staten Island.

We interviewed Gottfried about some of her most striking images. An exclusive preview of photos from her book, and her memories of taking them, after the jump.

Luke Silverman, 1977 (top image)
“He was the son of someone I worked with. He came to visit the office and had that costume on. He was very sweet and smart and acting out a TV show I think the costume was based on. We went outside to take the picture. 59th and Fifth at the GM Building.”

Woman With Dogs, in Central Park New York, 1980
“I remember she was pretty crazy, not just looking but the way she was acting.”

Isabel Croft Jumping Rope, Brooklyn, New York, 1972
“I was still at FIT in a work-study program run by this man named Barry Cohen, and he was involved in the Brooklyn Arts and Culture Association. He asked me to come and take stills. Isabel was there, and she started jumping rope so I took a picture of it. She was a youthful spirit and a photographer herself.”

Tim Fine, His Mother, and Her Poodle, New York 1977
“I worked with this guy at an ad agency. He invited me to his place, maybe the Upper East Side. He wanted a picture with his mother. He got married. I took pictures at his wedding. We lost touch after that.”
—Tim Murphy

All photos courtesy of Arlene Gottfried and powerHouse Books.

Ghosts of New York: Photographer Arlene Gottfried Captures Disappearing Gotham