Lonely Planet Writer

A New York artist has captured how Times Square has changed in 35 years

In the 1980s, New York artist Jane Dickson used to live on 43rd Street and 8th Avenue, a time when the area riddled with crime. It was also when Dickson photographed and painted scenes from her life in Times Square—including snapshots from her apartment window, on the streets and up close.

Jane Dickson's Hotel Girl
Hotel Girl, 1983. Image courtesy of Jane Dickson

Dickson is now showing these iconic relics of Times Square in her forthcoming hardcover book, Jane Dickson in Times Square, which is being released with Anthology Editions on 23 October.

Times Square was not always a sensory overload tourist destination in central Manhattan, it was a barren strip until the area was first given its name in 1904 as where The New York Times had its offices. But in the 1960s, it became a gritty area with sex shops and peep shows, as hustlers would work the streets and movie theaters screened porn.

Dickson has been documenting life in New York for 35 years
Fascination 2. Image courtesy of Jane Dickson

In the 1980s, things started to change, there was a real estate boom and Midtown was being developed. Times Square became a cultural hub for artists, who could still afford to live in the area, and Dickson shows this up close with portraits of artists in the vibrant neighborhood. The book features charcoal sketches of the city at night; including people lining up for street food to being caught in the rain on 8th Avenue.

The revitalization of Times Square really took hold in the 1990s, when the city restored nine historic theatres on Broadway. It helped draw tourism in the theatre district with musicals, and a retail district began to grow.

Dickson has been portayin lif in the Big Apple for many years
Green Garage. Image courtesy of Jane Dickson

Today, we know Times Square for commercial venues like the Hard Rock Cafe and Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, but this book is akin to a time machine that takes readers back to a time when New York City was a rich hotbed for culture.

“I was a flâneur, documenting this crazy scene; a painter, using the camera to take notes, trying to get some grip on what the hell was going on,” writes Dickson. “One of my main goals is to leave a record of how the world looked and felt, in this place, at this time, to this woman. The female gaze is not disembodied—it is very much embodied and grounded within the female form and experience, here in my experience.”