Photographer Arlene Gottfried loved New York city’s landscape and all the characters that inhabited it. While keeping her eye and mind on the city streets and thriving on their energy, she visited every nook and cranny of all five boroughs, capturing a fleeting glimpse of the beautiful souls who crossed her path. Her iconic photobook Sometimes Overwhelming is a manic yet romantic ode to the people and landscape of New York in the 1970s and ’80s.
Born in Brooklyn, Arlene Gottfried started photographing her personal experience of New York after high school and continued to document this throughout her life. Always having a camera in hand, she chronicled life in the ways she saw it through a deeply empathetic and affectionate lens. Gottfried had a way of looking at the world with that was distinctly her own. She had an eye for quirky and unusual scenes and was particularly drawn to an ensemble cast of New York’s gentler eccentrics. Describing her practice as a life of wandering, she reached some of the city’s most intriguing outposts, from Studio 54, Paradise Garage, Plato’s Retreat and Empire Roller Disco in Crown Heights to Gay Pride, Halloween, West Indian Day Parades, Coney Island and Brighton Beach. As an insider, she was able to tell the story on her own terms, capturing a slice of life that has vanished since.
Sometimes Overwhelming brings together early works from 1970s and 1980s, as Gottfried walked the city in search of places, astonishing faces and unexpected street scenes. From Coney Island to a Hasid at Riis Beach’s nude bay to the disco nights of sexual abandon and the children in the original Village Halloween parade, it provides a delightfully lighthearted look at the most outrageous people you might ever see. At once raw, real, hard-edged and caustic, affectionate, funny and loving, these images reflect the photographer’s deep connection with the city and the people she photographed. From a fully-clothed Hasidic man standing next to a nude bodybuilder in Riis Park and a couple snuggled under the Coney Island boardwalk to fire-eater honing his skills in the men’s room of a disco, these scenes chronicle a gritty but inspiring and carefree city.
To honor Arlene Gottfried a year after her untimely death, powerHouse Books reissued this legendary work in 2018. The book features 120 pages with 100 duotone photographs.
Sometimes Overwhelming by Arlene Gottfried can be purchased from powerHouse Books for $45 in hardcover.
Photo credits (from top to bottom): Angel and Woman on Boardwalk in Brighton Beach, New York, 1976; Men’s Room at Disco, 1978; and KISS, Halloween Parade, West Village New York, 1978.