Uma velha e escura NYC
When Drugs Ruled New York Streets
Returning from an assignment in Brooklyn on Nov. 5, 1988, the photographer Ángel Franco had a message for his editors on the picture desk of The New York Times. He added it to the caption notes on the back of the 8-by-10 contact sheets with the day’s take.
“Important. Please do not show faces. Puts our source in danger. Life and death situation. For both of us.”
In a week when public attention has refocused on the dangers of being a war photographer, it’s worth recalling the risks taken by photojournalists much closer to home who set out to document drug dealing and drug use. The territory is every bit as treacherous, the enemy every bit as implacable, the peril every bit as real.
And in the end, it yields pictures that seem even more unreal, since a principal convention of this photojournalistic subdiscipline is — as Mr. Franco urgently requested — that the subjects’ faces not be shown.
Ever vigilant about the imagery it presented to readers, who were imagined to be perusing the newspaper at the breakfast table or on the subway, The Times could not have been eager to depict dealers and users in action. But the spread of illegal drugs, beginning in the 1960s, required it. If one were to tell the story of New York in that period, one had to show the people, buildings, streets and neighborhoods that had been transformed by the drug trade.
For photographers like Mr. Franco, that meant navigating very tricky lines. Having grown up in the city, he was streetwise enough to figure out where to go to find drugs being bought and sold. But the next step, cameras hanging from his shoulders, was pure improvisation.
I walked into the courtyard. I again announced who I was and my purpose for being there, when a man in the shadows turned and stuck his arm out of the window, as if to say: ‘Look at this! Show this maddening pain to the world!’