This is a Fun Maps and a fascinating photo series on New York City, as seen on Vanishing NY and Curbed NY: one man photographed 3,200 Manhattan doors in 1976 in his conceptual art piece Doors, NYC. Roy Colmer died in February 2014, but the New York Public Library mapped out his body of work with images of the doors attached to each pin on the map.
Here’s some background on Colmer and the project itself, along with some of his most intriguing photos from the New York Public Library Digital Collection.
Though Colmer worked in multiple artistic fields like film, photography, painting and design, Doors, NYC became his most famous project. In this project, he decided to use simple images to convey less obvious messages by encouraging us to seek out “sameness” as well as “variation” among the doors.
An example of an even-numbered, eccentric door on East 96th street between 2nd and 3rd avenues
This odd-numbered door was on West 52nd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues.
A more decrepit door on 1st Avenue between East 93rd 94th streets
To execute the project, from November 1975 to September 1976, Colmer took pictures of doors that he often saw everyday in sequence. This meant that he left out doors from entire neighborhoods, which is why the photographs on the map are somewhat clustered. According to Vanishing NY, Colmer did not care about “the particular street, historic or architectural importance of the door.” Instead, he just took pictures of whatever doors he immediately saw as he walked.
An odd-numbered door on the other side of Manhattan on East 7th street between 2nd Avenue and Cooper Square
The door of a nearby home on the Lower East Side
This arbitrary shooting resulted in images of doors from all kinds of buildings, ranging from dairy stores, to ale houses, hoisery sellers, music stores, dance schools, barber shops, and much more.
A door on the Lower East Side demonstrating the diversity of Colmer’s images
A doorway to a religious locale on 2nd Avenue between 7th and 8th streets
Colmer photographed a wide variety of doorways, including one for the Chorus Line on West 44th street
Colmer included the doorway to the Woolworth Building in his photographs
Doorways and buildings aside, some of Colmer’s images, such as the ones below, have people in them. This contributes to the subtle narrative and message conveyed by each one.
An instance of human subjects in front of a door on West 43rd street
Colmer photographed this door on Centre Street between Hester Street and Grand Street.
A small shop on 2nd Avenue, also on the Lower East Side
People waiting in line for a show by a door on West 44th street
A man peering through the door of an evidently closed shop on Barclay Street
Though Colmer created the project for artistic purposes, in the end this work served as documentation of New York City itself in the 1970s, which was important during a time of such rapid cultural change. The images serve as remnants of what strolling through Manhattan on a typical was like, capturing the vibrant spirit of the ’70s.
Next, check out 6 other documentary photographic projects about NYC and discover some other curious doors like the Miniature Fairy Doors in NYC and the Curious Door to Nowhere in NYC’s Penn Station. You can find more old photographs at the OldNYC Map from the New York Public Library Collection. Get in touch with the author @sgeier97