This street photographer captured the sex and danger of ’80s NYC
Hookers, users, mentally disturbed transients . . . and that was just the neighbors.
It was the experience Jane Dickson and her husband, filmmaker Charlie Ahearn, had, while living right by Times Square during the 1980s. Their apartment building (now the site of the Westin hotel on 43rd Street and Eighth Avenue) was the ideal vantage point for Dickson’s gritty, street-life photography, which captured Times Square’s nocturnal excitement — and extreme danger.
“I feel really lucky that I didn’t become a drug addict,” the 66-year-old tells The Post. “Most people who are drawn to the nightlife crashed and burned eventually. I did everything once, but I always wanted to be thinking clearly in the morning.”
Born in Chicago, Dickson graduated from Harvard in 1976 and moved to New York City the following year. After living downtown, she and Ahearn moved to the Times Square area in early 1981, attracted to its energy, creativity, and location.
Now, her photographs — and the paintings they inspired — are compiled in the new book “Jane Dickson in Times Square” (Anthology Editions), and some of these works are also on display at the Steve Harvey Fine Arts Project in Manhattan (208 Forsyth St., through Dec. 16). Here are some of the most striking pictures.
“Subway Entrance at 42nd Street and Broadway” (1982)
If you think the subway is bad now, Dickson has tales that may make you reconsider. “I remember walking up some stairs into Times Square one time,” she says. “The man walking in front of me swiveled around and waved a knife in my face. I leisurely backed down the stairs and told a policeman. He reluctantly spoke to the guy, came back and said, ‘This guy said you beat him up!’ Somebody had beaten him up, but it certainly wasn’t me!”
“Show World” (1981)
Peep shows and strip clubs were an integral part of Times Square during the ’70s and ’80s, and Dickson lived right across from one of them. “Show World was pretty hard-core,” she says. “But the gay clubs were something else. My gay friends who took me said that it was basically like advertising your wares so whoever liked the look of you could go backstage and pay you. It was very much more turning tricks than the female version.”
“Men With Hats” (1985)
“A lot of people in Times Square looked really messed up, but these guys looked like saints with those hats,” says Dickson of this duo, who were only stationed on the corner of 42nd and Eighth for a week. “They were friends with a guy called Benjamin, who would shine shoes. He was very educated, and I’m pretty sure he was an undercover cop because he was very curious to know why I was going back and forth, because I didn’t look like a hooker.”
“The Cold Crush Brothers” (1981, photo by Charlie Ahearn)
With hip-hop slowly making its way from the South Bronx downtown during the early ’80s, Dickson and Ahearn found themselves in the middle of a burgeoning cultural phenomenon. Ahearn eventually set to work writing and directing 1983’s iconic “Wild Style” feature, featuring Grandmaster Flash, Fab 5 Freddy, and the Cold Crush Brothers. Dickson created the movie’s animated title sequence, and much of its production centered in at the couple’s apartment. “I was teaching a class a few years ago and I told one of the students I was a co-producer on ‘Wild Style,’” says Dickson. “This kid got down on his knees, hugged me, and said, ‘You have no idea how much that movie changed my life.’ ”
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