The year was 1978, and many employees at several New York City newspapers were on strike. With no end to the strike in sight, several newspaper photographers approached the city's park commissioner Gordon Davis with an idea — photographing the hustle and bustle of the city's parks that summer.
"I was skeptical," Davis told The New York Times. "but what they came back with made my cry."
Photographers took more than 2,900 images that summer at parks throughout the city's boroughs. However, the photos were never developed. They were placed in a box that wouldn't be opened again for nearly 40 years.
In October 2017, the New York City Parks Director of Arts & Antiquities Jonathan Kuhn was notified that a Central Park Conservancy photographer discovered the box.
"I knew instantly that it was a rich and important body of work, based on its documentary value, and on the high artistic quality of the photographic compositions," Kuhn tells MNN. "It is rare to find such an extensive group of images owned by the city that captures park use so spontaneously."
Although the images were taken during a difficult time in the city's history when crime was prevalent and the economy was suffering, these images of people embracing the parks reflect a different narrative for this time period.
"People engage in their parks even in times of financial hardship and cannot be taken for granted," Kuhn says. "Our parks are a constant in the ever-changing quality of life in the city, and they reflect our society at large."
As much as New York City has evolved throughout the decades, the amazing thing is that all the parks featured in these photos still exist today. Most of them opened in the early 20th century and remain as popular now as they were in the '70s.
"The photos revel in the essential nature of our parks for the citizens," says Kuhn. "They demonstrate the city's diversity, and to some extent, its changing demographics."
These photos and many more are currently on display until June 14 at the Arsenal Gallery located in Central Park.