These eerily empty street photos show how different New York City was in the crime-ridden 1970s

Langdon ClayChevrolet Nova, in the Twenties near Avenue of the Americas, 1976

Riddled with crime, and on the brink of bankruptcy, New York City was a very different place 40 years ago. Unlike most New Yorkers, photographer Langdon Clay spent much of the 1970s walking around Manhattan alone in the middle of the night.

It certainly wasn’t the safest way to spend his time, but “being young and foolish can have its advantages,” Clay told Business Insider.

While roaming the streets, Clay documented the city’s cars, peacefully parked and left for the night, reflecting the neon signs and street lights. Though the photographic focus is on the cars, it’s hard to ignore the fact that there are very rarely any other people in the shot. Clay’s book, “Cars — New York City 1974-1976,” is a collection of photos of a New York City that will probably never be that eerily quiet again.

Clay moved to New York City in 1971. 1,691 murders were reported in the city the following year.

Langdon Clay
A&P car, Buick LeSabre, 14th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues, 1974

Source: The Village Voice

By 1975, the city had to agree to deep budget cuts to avoid bankruptcy.

Langdon Clay
Box car, Gran Torino Sport, in the Twenties or Thirties on the East side, 1975

In those days, the city was 'mostly broke,' Clay said. He referenced a New York Daily News headline that read '(President) Ford to City: Drop Dead!' after city officials had gone to Washington 'hat in hand.' 'But I didn't notice much of that,' Clay said.

Langdon Clay
Pat's Hot and Cold Heroes car, Buick Skylark, Soho, 1976

At only 25, Clay was obsessed with documenting the city's eerily empty streets at night.

Langdon Clay
White Tower car, Buick LeSabre, Meatpacking District, 1976

'I had recently switched from black and white (film) to colour, and this became the project that really hooked me,' he said.

Langdon Clay
Bar car (anti-apartheid day), Chevrolet Nova, in the Twenties near Avenue of the Americas, 1976

Clay wasn't afraid to roam the deserted streets. 'I took mostly familiar routes,' he said.

Langdon Clay
Fountain car, Oldsmobile Cutlass, 1975

Luc Sante, who wrote the foreword to Clay's book, remembers 1970s New York in a similar way. 'I walked around at night in Manhattan a lot in those years, and hardly ever saw anyone else. Was it fear or insularity or television or drugs that shut people in? I couldn't tell you,' he wrote.

Langdon Clay
Basketball car, Plymouth Duster, 1974

Clay was careful about which cars he chose to photograph. 'There was no perfect car without the perfect background,' he said.

Langdon Clay
Subway Impala, Chevrolet Impala, 7th Avenue and 29th Street, 1975

'As you can see the cars are not at all perfect. When recording for posterity I think it's important to focus on what's there, not what it is others think is ideal,' Clay said. 'In time even the most sad-sack subjects can reveal some inner glow.'

Langdon Clay
Hard Rock Caddy, Cadillac near 23rd Street and 8th Avenue, 1975

Sante reflects on how Clay's work stands apart from other photographs of New York City taken in the 1970s: 'Other collections of photographs documenting those years tend to focus on extremes of misery, on infrastructure breakdown, on evanescent outbreaks of colourful behaviour that will disproportionately resonate in later decades. Here you see the city as it actually was.'

Langdon Clay
24 Checker car, Checker Marathon, in the Twenties near 6th Avenue, 1975

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