To most of the people living at 992 Southern Blvd in the Bronx, it's just the stairwell. But on Sept. 25, 1961, it was where James Linares bled in the arms of his girlfriend Josephine Dexidor after being shot by her husband. New York Daily News photographer and editor Marc A. Hermann brings the two worlds together in a new photo series called "New York City: Then & Now." The series showcases archival photos of New York, some famous, some destined to fade into history, and blends them with present-day scenes at the same location.
Hermann always liked the WWII battlefield photo mash-ups by people like Sergei Larenkov and Joeri Teeuwisse. "I have always been a fan of the work of our predecessors in the New York City photojournalism community," says Hermann. "And it didn't take long for me to think that something similar could be done with the lesser-known 'war zones' of our streets during the days of Murder, Inc."
With unique access to the thousands upon thousands of images in the New York Daily News archives, Hermann would use his spare time, between dispatching photographers or running to the latest story himself, to search through the database, focusing on the period from the 1930s to 1960s. "I had a few favorites in mind, which had been re-published in various retrospectives over the years, but others probably hadn't been given a second look since the day they first appeared," says Hermann. "That made for a two-fold goal, not only to tell snippets of the city's history by putting the images in a modern context, but also to showcase some incredible work that's been forgotten."
One of the biggest challenges for Hermann was trying to match the perspective and scale of the original photos, primarily shot on 4-by-5-inch sheet film using Speed Graphic cameras with a 127mm or 135mm lenses, with 35mm DSLR cameras and lenses. He also learned some lessons in past techniques.
"I had always loved the photo of the woman in the Bronx holding her wounded boyfriend on the stairs of an apartment building, and presumed that the photographer simply stuck his camera a few inches through the front door to make the shot," he says. "When I found the building, though, I was amazed to find that those stairs were at the end of a long hallway and around a corner, and in order to match the angle, I had to press myself up against one of the walls. Suddenly, I could imagine the photographer getting a tip about the scene unfolding out of public view, and how he would have had to literally run inside, crumple to a stop against the wall, fire off the shot to his left, undoubtedly incurring the wrath of the subject, and get out as fast as he'd come in."
Not only do the photos illustrate how much has changed and remained the same about the various locations, but also about how crime and the city are covered. "Back then, there could have been a shooting on the sixth floor of an apartment building, and the photographers would have a picture looking into the living room as cops stood over the body," says Hermann. "Today, in the same situation, you wouldn't even be allowed to get on the block. So, it's not just about a changed scene, it's about a changed industry."