Purgatory & Paradise: Sassy ‘70s Suburbia & the City
Meryl Meisler, Bizarre Publishing, 2016
Do you remember New York before Reagan and the cult of the Free Market? Before it became Singapore on the Hudson? Meryl Meisler gives us a fantastic glimpse into the 1970s in that uniquely appropriate medium, black and white photography. It’s impossible to imagine this work in color. As her camera traveled from suburbia (Massapequa) to Brooklyn to downtown and back, Meisler captured a different vision of that time from the scowling seriousness so often associated with New York.
This was a pre-internet world; as hard as that may be to imagine for some, it wasn’t that long ago. People had less to prove, were free to enjoy themselves. They weren’t thinking of how many likes they were going to receive on social media.
Meisler photographed a lot of suburban Long Island scenes, and she shot those with sympathy and an uncritical eye. This is not Diane Arbus’s vision, with its suppressed horror. (Horror for the most part justified.) Nor is it Garry Winogrand’s ironic take on America. Meisler was clearly enjoying herself, and her subjects, wherever she finds them, are generally enjoying themselves too.
Meisler did stints at odd jobs, including a spell as a bartender/hostess at Playmate. Her friend Judi Jupiter (now there’s a downtown name) got her interested in working in Times Square, when it was The Deuce. Meisler’s take on sex work is simple, direct, and non-judgmental. The sex workers, patrons, and the odd outside passers-by, seem to be comfortable with themselves and to know what they’re doing.
It was a time of urban decay, of course, and New York City in the Seventies was a standout in the history of urban decay. This did not escape Meisler’s camera; however, she observes, but does not dwell. In one of the few bouts of irony in these photographs, Meisler gives us a shot of a photographer himself photographing a passed out drunk on the corner Delancey and the Bowery. In those days, the Bowery really was the Bowery.
All photos from Purgatory & Paradise SASSY ’70s Suburbia & The City (Bizarre Publishing) copyright Meryl Meisler courtesy of Steven Kasher Gallery