Book Review: The Eyes of the City by Richard Sandler

Two Faces, 5th Ave., NYC, 1989 © Richard Sandler / The Eyes of the City

Two Faces, 5th Ave., NYC, 1989 © Richard Sandler / The Eyes of the City

“These pictures are in part screaming at us to wake up and open our eyes to what’s happening … Richard is just putting it all down, making a record, exploring his own loneliness and mortality, compelled to document as a way to say he’s alive,
while pointing with equal wonder at beauty and horror …”
Jonathan Ames (from the Afterword)

Timing, skill, and talent all play an important role in creating a great photograph, but it is perhaps the most basic, primary element–the photographer’s eye–which is most crucial. In The Eyes of the City Richard Sandler not only showcases decades-worth of his strong eye for street photography, but also the eyes of his subjects as he catches them looking into his camera at just the right moment. Sandler’s work was shot in a period of time that spans pre-internet/pre-digital photography, and into the popular resurgence of the Street Photography aesthetic in the early 21st century. It seems like the distant past, and at the same time only 15 years past, but from 1977 to September 11th 2001, Sandler regularly walked through Boston and New York City, encountering all that the streets had to offer, and the results are presented here, many for the first time.


© Richard Sandler / The Eyes of the City

Sandler credits his fascination with street life to his years in New York as a teenager in the 1960s. Young Sandler, a frequent truant, spent much of his time in a very different Times Square than the sanitized tourist attraction we know today. Manhattan was a cyclone of faces: some at play, many clearly suffering. All eyes, ears, and heart, Sandler was sensitive to it all as a kid peering into this adult world. Such early impressions would come to play a significant role in his later street photography.

© Richard Sandler / The Eyes of the City

© Richard Sandler / The Eyes of the City

Living in Boston in 1977, and after two careers involved in helping others, as a natural foods chef and acupuncturist, Sandler realized an overwhelming desire to do something for himself, alone. As if on cue, a late 1940s Leica appeared in his life and he hit the Boston streets in an experimental mood. He shot in Boston for three productive years and then moved back home to photograph an edgy, nervous, angry, dangerous New York City. In the 1980s crime and crack were on the rise and their effects were devastating the city. Graffiti exploded onto surfaces everywhere and the Times Square, East Village, and Harlem streets were riddled with drugs, while in Midtown the rich wore furs in vast numbers and “greed was good.” In the 1990s the city experienced drastic changes to lure in corporate interests and tourists and the results were directly felt on the streets as rents were raised and several neighborhoods were sanitized, making them ghosts of what, to many, made them formerly exciting.

© Richard Sandler / The Eyes of the City

© Richard Sandler / The Eyes of the City

Throughout these turbulent and triumphant years Sandler paced the streets with all his knowledge of what the city was, ever on the lookout for what his eye connected to as New York transformed and changed the lives of everyone who lived in it. For better and for worse, one was simply “on the street” in public space, bathing in the comforts, or terrors, of the human sea and Sandler’s work is the marbled evidence of this beauty mixing with decay as only his eyes could capture it.

Hasid and Hipster, NYC, 2001© Richard Sandler / The Eyes of the City

Hasid and Hipster, NYC, 2001© Richard Sandler / The Eyes of the City










The Eyes of the City by Richard Sandler
Hardcover, 11-1/4 x 10-1/2 inches (28.5×26.6cm)
180 pages
ISBN: 978-1-57687-787-6

Richard Sandler is a street photographer and documentary filmmaker. He has directed and shot eight non-fiction films, including The Gods of Times Square, Brave New York, and Radioactive City. Sandler’s still photographs are in the permanent collections of the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Museum, the New York Historical Society, and the Houston Museum of Fine Art. He was awarded a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship for photography, a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation fellowship for Filmmaking, and a New York State Council on the Arts fellowship also for Filmmaking.

Dave Isay is the founder of StoryCorps and the recipient of numerous broadcasting honors, including six Peabody awards, a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, and the 2015 TED Prize. He is the author/editor of numerous books that grew out of his public radio documentary work.

Jonathan Ames is the author of the novels Wake Up, Sir!, The Extra Man, I Pass Like Night; a graphic novel, and The Alcoholic (with artwork by Dean Haspiel), among others. He is the winner of a Guggenheim Fellowship and is a former columnist for New York Press.

To purchase a copy of the book, see

(All images used by permission from The Eyes of the City by Richard Sandler, published by powerHouse Books.)


Also published on Medium.

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