Times Square, Then and Now

Multimedia, Prose


Photo by Jan Staller
Photo by Jan Staller

A recent (Sept 23) piece in The New York Times¬†by John Leland about photographer Jan Staller and his photos of 1980s Times Square–“He Thought Times Square Was Dead, Before It Showed Him Life“–brought to mind OE’s chronicler of Times Square, Donnie Boman.

As you probably know, Donnie has been photographing the characters in Times Square–specifically, the cartoon mascots–for some time now, and posting them on Ohio Edit’s Instagram.

Leland writes that in Times Square, Staller was initially “drawn to what he thought were dead zones: a subterranean shoe-repair shop squeezed into a subway station and a coin-operated fortune teller perched by the subway stairs.” But after two young men “in gang colors” asked him to take their picture, Staller began a series of portraits of people in Times Square. Along with the story, The Times¬†offers a great slideshow of Staller’s work.

Asked what drew him to Times Square, Donnie said he was initially “scared” of photographing it. “There’s this crazy amount activity, this crazy amount of people; it’s crazy, all of it. So much stuff.” He said that he wanted to capture something “calm, but weird and touristy.” Finding the cartoon characters, Donnie has been able to photograph them at rest and/or suspended animation, giving the viewer a “different peek inside of a pause into their lives.”

Donnie’s work, below, is different than Staller’s in that his is street photography rather than portraiture, and Donnie’s search for the “activity of rest” in a very crowded Times Square of the 2010s is in contrast to Stellar’s search for a grimier landscape in “dead zones” of Times Square in the 1980s. Despite these differences, or maybe because of them, Donnie’s shots make a compelling juxtaposition with Staller’s work.