Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire

Bruce Davidson, Gang on the Boardwalk at Coney Island, 1959

Bruce Davidson, Teenager Combing Her Hair in Cigarette Machine Mirror, 1959

Perusing ICP’s collection of images of New York I was struck by how entwined the city once was with that particular affectation known as smoking. It seemed to wear smoking like a badge of rebellion; a sign of its station as a place apart from the rest of America.

Gerald S. Upsham, [Student activist David Shapiro sitting behind University President Kirk’s desk smoking an appropriated cigar during six-day campus uprising and protest at Columbia University, New York], May 1968

Upsham’s image illustrates the attitude perfectly. David Shapiro, in an act of protest over Columbia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, stormed President Grayson L. Kirk’s office—for what purpose, beyond the obvious photo op—it is difficult to say. In this photograph he appears disinterested; detached from the giddy cluster of fellow SDS member crowding the window in the background. He is at ease, reaping the rewards of his impromptu coup d’état.

I suppose the city’s romance with cigarettes had to come to an end, but revisiting these images gave me a sense of nostalgia for a decidedly younger and grittier city.

Garry Winogrand, Two Women Smoking Cigarettes, 1981

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