book on vintage images
gets modern boost
BY BOB RKASNER
Long time East Village
photographer Godlis has
a new book out and he
credits this collection of street
photography, “Godlis Streets,” to
an unforeseen collaboration.
His fi rst monograph, “History
is Made at Night,” is a survey of
his late 1970s images taken inside
and outside of the legendary
CBGB’s that became reality as
a result of an extremely popular
This time around, Instagram
was the catalyst.
“I was feeling depressed in the
spring of 2019,” he explains. “I
started going through my street
photos and posting them on
After getting a surprise endorsement
from noted street photographer
Clay Benskin, Godlis
suddenly had a whole new group
of followers who were interested
in his street work, which covers
the years 1974 to 1990.
He began interacting with his
new audience, asking for their
“The reactions surprised me,”
he says. “They infl uenced how I
saw the work. The cover of the
book wasn’t initially one of my favorites,
but it got a wild reaction.”
Another thing that he didn’t
see coming was a message from
Reel Art Press.
“We’ll be very upset if you
don’t do a street pic book with
us! ” Godlis recalls them saying.
“When a publisher comes to you,
it’s remarkable,” he adds.
He began to intensely organize
and date everything, getting
feedback along the way from the
“The editing process was a collaboration
with my followers,” he
notes, “and it came at a time when
I needed something to do.”
The process continued to move
forward until he hit a roadblock in
the form of a pandemic.
“Tony Nourmand from Reel
Art had planned to come to New
York to help fi nalize the book
but that was no longer possible,”
Godlis relates. “Thank God for
Top: Veselka Couple, East Village, 1982 by Godlis
After a short and, luckily, mild
bout with COVID-19, Godlis
began determining the size,
shape and content of the book
electronically with Nourmand,
who is based in England.
Godlis looked to some of his
inspirations – the Diane Arbus
monograph and Robert Frank’s
classic “The Americans” to
choose the number of pics that
would go in and then went on to
do the sequencing, which took
about two months and kept him
busy during the lockdown. The
images came from a short period
in Boston and then from his formative
years in NYC.
“I left Boston after I was
robbed there,” he recalls, laughing.
“I thought it would be safer in
New York. … I never understood
why I wasn’t taking pictures in
Boston like the ones I saw being
done in New York. When I got
Godlis photographed next to what’s left of the recently closed
Gem Spa, on St. Marks Place.
here I realized it was because I
wasn’t taking pictures of New
After shooting CBGB’s at night
for a few years, he concentrated
more on daytime imagery. His
confidence in his work was
boosted with a thumbs up from
an undisputed master of the craft.
Godlis presented 60 of his photos
to Garry Winogrand during a
seminar, who whittled them down
to two and growled, “These shots
“I went on a tear after that – I
was much more sure of myself,”
he recalls. “I shot like crazy.”
The results are in this book.
With a sense of composition and
a sense of humor, he managed to
capture a period of time as if he
were a visitor from the future,
freezing moments that represent
what it meant to live back then
– memorializing porn theaters,
street preachers and omnipresent
cigarette ads as if he knew they
would all be gone by the time the
book was published.
At one point though, Godlis hit
what he calls “a mid-life photo crisis.”
He had been diagnosed with
multiple sclerosis and interest in
his type of art was waning.
“Why do I keep shooting?”
he asked his therapist. After
bemoaning his situation, the
therapist summed it up for him.
“So,” they said, “you’re telling
PHOTO BY BOB KRASNER
me that you no longer want to
go into a dark room, with a lot
of negatives, and you’re having
“Luckily,” he says, “digital
If you see him on the street
today, there’s a camera around his
neck, although he no longer puts
fi lm into the rangefi nder Leica
that he used to produce these images
— that’s been replaced with
a digital Fujifi lm X-E3.
And he has no problem with
the fact that everyone and
their granny is out there taking
“I think that there is the stuff
that everyone does and the stuff
that a few people do,” he states.
“I persisted because I love it and
I think I have something different
from everyone else.”
Two heads nodding in agreement
are the esteemed author
Luc Sante and the celebrated
Stein, who wrote the forward
and afterword, respectively, for
“Lots of people are good at
lots of things,” Godlis muses.
“The only thing I’m good at is
Godlis can be followed on
Instagram @godlis, investigated
at godlis.com and signed copies of
“Godlis Streets” are intermittently
available at rizzolibookstore.com.
10 December 3, 2020 Schneps Media