40 Years of Jamel Shabazz’s Iconic New York Street Photography at the Bronx Museum

1980s New York Street Photography by Jamel Shabazz

“A time of innocence” Flatbush, Brooklyn. 1981.

The street photography of Jamel Shabazz crystalized an important era of New York City and its boroughs. Throughout the 1980s, Shabazz moved through the city and used his camera to open up new avenues of communication. With a glance and a smile, he was able to engage people as he took their photos and, at the same time, preserved history. Now, Shabazz's work is getting major attention at the Bronx MuseumJamel Shabazz: Eyes on the Streets is the first museum survey of his street photography, which he continues to shoot today.

Over 150 photographs spanning a period of 40 years tell the story of a city. From a man playing with his pit bull in 1980 to families at Coney Island in 2014, these images weave a tale of community. It's this common thread that defines Shabazz's work and that continues to make his work accessible to people from all walk of life.

Shabazz began his street photography in earnest after returning to New York in the 1980s. He had just finished a stint in the military, where he was stationed abroad. When he returned, he found that the city had changed—it had become more violent. Using his craft, he began to search for what had caused this change.

“I started out just wanting to just make beautiful images,” Shabazz told My Modern Met last year on the Top Artist Podcast. “But then I realized that the camera had a magnetic attraction to it. And it gave me a voice now to connect with people, not only photograph them. I was concerned about the violence that was going on in the community. I was concerned about young people's goals and aspirations. So I used it as a magnet to draw people in and have conversations.”

Wide-reaching in its content, the Bronx Museum exhibition allows visitors to see the full breadth of these conversations. Shabazz not only captured the fashion of the time but also people's spirits. Through slight smiles and a trusting gaze, we see how he was able to engage his subjects and immediately put them at ease. It's an incredible testament to his talent that across so many decades, he was able to earn their trust and, in doing so, immortalize time.

Jamel Shabazz: Eyes on the Streets is on view at the Bronx Museum through September 4, 2022.

Eyes on the Streets at the Bronx Museum is the first major museum survey of Jamel Shabazz's photography.

Man Swinging a Pit Bull by Jamel Shabazz

“Man and dog” Lower East Side, Manhattan. 1980.

1980s New York Street Photography by Jamel Shabazz

“Embracing the Feeling” Flatbush, Brooklyn. 1982.

Shabazz is known for his incredible New York street photography, which he began in the early 1980s.

Kid Jumping on a Mattress in New York

“Flying High” Brownsville, Brooklyn. 1982.

Kids Riding a Bus in 1980s New York

Protest Sign in 1980s New York

“Sign of the time” NYC. 1981.

His work immortalized a generation and focused on joyful daily moments of community.

Father and Son Eating at Restaurant

“Father & Son” Downtown Brooklyn, 1982.

1980s New York Street Photography by Jamel Shabazz

“Joy Riding” Flatbush, Brooklyn. 1980.

The exhibit contains over 150 photographs taken between 1980 and 2020.

Jamel Shabazz at the Bronx Museum

“Father & Seeds” Coney Island, Brooklyn. 2014.

Brooklyn in Black and White in Jamel Shabazz

“The Making of a Band” Bed Stuy, Brooklyn. 2008.

New York Street Photography by Jamel Shabazz

“Steel and Velvet” NYC. 2019.

Jamel Shabazz: Website | Instagram | Facebook
Bronx Museum: Website | Instagram | Facebook

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Jamel Shabazz and the Bronx Museum.

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Photographer Shares Polaroids of NYC’s 1970s Punk Rock Scene on Instagram

Authentic Street Photography of 1980s New York Reveals the Rise of Hip-Hop Culture

Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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