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'Times' Photographs Capture New York on Deadline


On this first day of 2007, a chunky little book, a collection of photographs from the archives of The New York Times, reminds us of what has changed and what stayed the same in the nation's great city.

NPR's special correspondent Susan Stamberg reports.

SUSAN STAMBERG: Larry Morris, William Soro(ph), Sarah Krulwich, Ernie Sisto. Unfamiliar names, but their pictures in The New York Times end up on breakfast tables everyday. They are photojournalists snapping New York minutes. The book, “New York: 365”, presents 365 photographs picked from some seven million images in the Times' archives. The pictures go back to the late 1800s. One, of New Years Eve in Time square, was taken by Larry Morris in 1954. Except for the sparse neon and the marquee touting a Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis movie, it could be New Years Eve 2006 or seven.

Mr. GAY TALESE (Author): There's so many people there.

STAMBERG: Gay Talese wrote the introduction to the photo book.

Mr. TALESE: There are so many witnesses to about everything, including your own hilarity and your sense of hope and your sense of despair, whatever it was, looking back, looking ahead. The event is really a coming together of people from all over the city and sometimes far from the city to think that there is a future for all of us.

STAMBERG: Writer Gay Talese moved from Ocean City, New Jersey, to Manhattan 50 years ago. After a half century in the city, Talese calls himself a longtime newcomer and an eternal tourist because, he says, New York is the international capital of reinvention.

Mr. TALESE: It is the city of reinvention in that people from all over the world come here and reinvent themselves. So it is a city in the making. It is sometimes a city that doesn't really have a clear definition of what it is because it isn't always in focus. And so you have this blurred vision of a precise place with all of the movement and the shadows and the simmerings and also the chaos.

Unidentified Man: Grand Central station.

(Soundbite of train whistle)

STAMBERG: Reinvention often begins at the railroad terminal pictured on page 619 in the book. Grand Central Station. In the 1940s, a melodramatic radio show was set there with surely the grandest radio writing ever.

Unidentified Man: As the bullet picks its target, shining rails in every part of our great country are aimed at Grand Central Station.

STAMBERG: Do you remember this, Mr. Talese?

Mr. TALESE: Certainly, I remember this. And I remember when I first went to Grand Central Terminal, as it was called, I thought of that echoing in my ear.

Unidentified Male: Drawn by the magnetic force of (unintelligible) metropolis, day and night, great trains rush toward the Hudson River. Sweeps down at the eastern bank for 140 miles. (Unintelligible).

Mr. TALESE: There we are. There we are. Look at the lighting. This is a picture of Grand Central Terminal, next to the information booth, that circular information booth. And there's the streams of light coming through the glass roof above and all these people standing around, waiting for the train, and while doing so, are conversing. And probably some of them are saying hello to one another and some are saying goodbye to another. And some of them are asking let's run away together. And that's what they're doing here. Some of them have high romance on their minds in the basking light of the great Grand Central Terminal.

Unidentified Man: Crossroads of the vermillion private line. A gigantic stage in which are played a thousand dramas daily.

Mr. TALESE: Now, flipping 434. Let's see what we have in 434.

STAMBERG: In our New York Studio, Gay Talese is leafing through the book for a picture taken almost 40 years ago. It's the last one we will look at.

Mr. TALESE: Oh, here we are. All right. I see that structure that looks like a mixture of crosses.

STAMBERG: It's the iconic grid of the Twin Towers. And there is something so poignant about this photo. It was shot for the Times by William Soro in 1970. It's a picture of the tower's going up. The Trade Center under construction. In 2001, that iconic grid took on a different meaning.

Mr. TALESE: Yeah, that became the ashen symbol of that place, didn't it?

STAMBERG: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. TALESE: Well, I'll tell you something, though, this is not to be utterly without romance and caring. But the World Trade Center was never the favorite building of New Yorkers when it was standing safely in the sky; you know that. Much comment by architectural critics that this was not a beautiful structure in the sky. Tall maybe, but not very much else.

That isn't to make light of the tragedy or to say that there isn't, in the aftermath of this destruction, not fondness for the building but certainly a sense of despair at that happened to all those people in that building.

(Soundbite of music)

STAMBERG: In mid-December, down at the tip of Manhattan island, friends and loved ones of those who died on September 11th inscribed messages onto a steel beam that will support the new freedom tower at Ground Zero.

A picture of that event appeared the next day in The New York Times. This book of photographs preserves decades worth of such decisive moments in the fantastic Metropolis, pictures shot on deadline without the leisure to make them art, but some are anyhow.

Gay Talese says they're the art of the instant.

Mr. TALESE: Which give a sense of the city in various attitudes and in good and bad days, and times long forgotten and in times that we recognize as yesterday and today.

STAMBERG: Gay Talese wrote the introduction to “New York: 365”, a collection of photojournalism from The New York Times.

I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: This morning, in Times Square, dozens of sanitation workers are getting the area back to where it's picture perfect. A record-setting three and a half tons of confetti helped reveler's usher in 2007. The New Year was still very new when workers grabbed their brooms and started sweeping. Some of the million spectators also helped out, picking up confetti to take home as a souvenir.

A very Happy New Year to all of you from all of us at MORNING EDITION and NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Susan Stamberg
Nationally renowned broadcast journalist Susan Stamberg is a special correspondent for NPR.