The American photographer Bettina Cirone’s pictures of New York City from the 1960s-1980s were exhibited at the Vapaakaupunki Olohuone between the 4th and the 17th of May 2024. Photos of architectural landmarks, street scenes, and celebrities, from Muhammad Ali to Salvador Dalì and Andy Warhol. It was the first exhibition entirely dedicated to Bettina Cirone and her photos of New York City.


Bettina Cirone as a photographer

Bet­ti­na Ci­ro­ne (b. 1933) got her first ca­me­ra when she was nine ye­ars old. It was a small $1.50 Ko­dak “box brow­nie” ca­me­ra, a gift from her fat­her. It be­ca­me Ci­ro­ne’s most tre­a­su­red gift – af­ter her dog. She soon le­ar­ned the ma­gic of de­ve­lo­ping pho­tos in the dark­room her fat­her had set up in their Brook­lyn apart­ment.

In the 1960s, Ci­ro­ne be­ca­me a fas­hi­on mo­del, wor­king with some of the most sought-af­ter fas­hi­on pho­tog­rap­hers, such as Phi­lip­pe Hals­man and Mel­vin (Mel) So­kols­ky. Si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly, she star­ted shoo­ting pic­tu­res of her col­le­a­gu­es for their comp cards. She was now using a sing­le lens 35mm Ag­fa Ga­va­ert, which she had bought in Ger­ma­ny.

Ci­ro­ne be­ca­me inc­re­a­sing­ly in­te­res­ted in light and com­po­si­ti­on. She star­ted ta­king pic­tu­res of Cent­ral Park at dif­fe­rent se­a­sons. In 1966, some of them were disp­la­yed at the Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­ra­ry Crafts (now Mu­seum of Arts and De­sign). Her tra­vel pho­tos from Hai­ti, ins­te­ad, were inc­lu­ded in an ex­hi­bi­ti­on at the Ame­ri­can Mu­seum of Na­tu­ral His­to­ry in 1974. She was al­so as­ked to ex­hi­bit her work at the In­ter­na­ti­o­nal Cen­ter of Pho­tog­rap­hy, at the time di­rec­ted by Cor­nell Capa, Ro­bert Capa’s brot­her, but Ci­ro­ne was too busy shoo­ting pic­tu­res. Du­ring her 40-ye­ar pho­tog­rap­hy ca­reer, she wor­ked in dif­fe­rent gen­res: arc­hi­tec­tu­re, tra­vel, fas­hi­on, and ce­leb­ri­ty pho­tog­rap­hy. Her pic­tu­res ap­pe­a­red in ma­jor news­pa­pers and ma­ga­zi­nes, such as the New York Ti­mes, Pe­op­le, Cos­mo­po­li­tan, Na­ti­o­nal Ge­og­rap­hic, Jet, and ot­hers. The ex­hi­bi­ti­on in Hel­sin­ki was the first show en­ti­re­ly de­di­ca­ted to Ci­ro­ne and her work.


New York City, 1960-1980

The ex­hi­bi­ti­on, Bet­ti­na Ci­ro­ne: Aper­tu­re on New York City, 1960-1980, ta­kes the vie­wer on a jour­ney through time. The cliché of a pic­tu­re being worth a thou­sand words be­co­mes clear in Ci­ro­ne’s pho­tos that do­cu­ment a tur­bu­lent but al­so fer­ti­le pe­ri­od in the city’s his­to­ry. Du­ring Ma­yor John Lind­say’s ad­mi­nist­ra­ti­on, from Ja­nu­a­ry 1966 to De­cem­ber 1973, New York was on the ver­ge of bank­rupt­cy. Trans­por­ta­ti­on, edu­ca­ti­on, and ra­ci­al ten­si­ons were among the city’s prob­lems; so was gar­ba­ge pi­ling up at street cor­ners where it re­mai­ned un­col­lec­ted; rats and ro­ac­hes in­fes­ted streets and sub­way tracks. Crime ra­tes were sky­roc­ke­ting, but due to lack of fun­ding, po­li­ce of­fi­cers were laid off, unemp­lo­y­ment inc­re­a­sed, and New York be­ca­me known as the City of Fear. Mo­re­o­ver, the Viet­nam War de­vas­ta­ted Ame­ri­cans, the count­ry was ho­mop­ho­bic, and in New York, even ser­ving al­co­hol to non-he­te­ro­se­xu­als was il­le­gal.

Gay bars and clubs, many of them lo­ca­ted in Green­wich Vil­la­ge, were run by mobs­ters and were rou­ti­ne­ly rai­ded. Sex and drugs were eve­ryw­he­re, pimps and pros­ti­tu­tes hang along Third and 12th Ave­nu­es or hust­led around Ti­mes Squ­a­re, known for its sex shops and peep shows. At the same time, the city was an avant-gar­de cen­ter of cre­a­ti­vi­ty and ac­ti­vism: Sal­va­dor Dalì, whose muse Ci­ro­ne was, re­si­ded and held court at St. Re­gis ho­tel on East 55th Street, where he al­so had his stu­dio; the Pop Art icon An­dy War­hol, Ci­ro­ne’s friend, ope­ned his stu­dio, The Fac­to­ry, as a works­pa­ce but al­so to host par­ties. New York was one of the cen­ters for gay li­be­ra­ti­on and Black Po­wer mo­ve­ments, but al­so backg­round for fas­hi­on shoots, set­ting for films and TV se­ries, and home for the le­gen­da­ry dis­co Stu­dio 54, which ope­ned its doors in 1977.


The Exhibition

In 1970, Bet­ti­na Ci­ro­ne was hi­red by Lind­say to work in the Lo­wer Man­hat­tan De­ve­lop­ment City Plan­ning Com­mis­si­on. Du­ring the two ye­ars that Ci­ro­ne do­cu­men­ted the de­ve­lop­ment of the city, she al­so pho­tog­rap­hed its pe­op­le, arc­hi­tec­tu­ral land­marks, and many his­to­ri­cal­ly sig­ni­fi­cant events. She now used Ni­kon and Lei­ca. Many of the po­wer­ful still ima­ges disp­la­yed at Olo­huo­ne Gal­le­ry were ta­ken du­ring the 1970s. Ho­we­ver, the ex­hi­bi­ti­on starts with an ima­ge ta­ken in 1963. It con­veys the shock cau­sed by Pre­si­dent John F. Ken­ne­dy’s as­sas­si­na­ti­on: the en­ti­re na­ti­on was grie­ving.

Se­ve­ral of Ci­ro­ne’s pho­tos in­vi­te the vie­wer to si­lent con­temp­la­ti­on. Many of the pho­tos can be ca­te­go­ri­zed as street pho­tog­rap­hy, such as “Umb­rel­la Crowd,” “A coup­le strol­ling un­der Brook­lyn Brid­ge,” and “Chi­na­town phone booth.” Des­pi­te the de­cay that sur­roun­ded Ci­ro­ne, her de­si­re was to cap­tu­re be­au­ty, which is evi­dent in the street and arc­hi­tec­tu­ral ima­ges, many of them aest­he­ti­cal­ly stun­ning.

Sin­ce Bet­ti­na Ci­ro­ne was com­pe­tent, well-li­ked, and well-con­nec­ted, she was sho­we­red with in­vi­ta­ti­ons to the­a­ter and ex­hi­bi­ti­on ope­nings, cock­tail re­cep­ti­ons, and VIP din­ners; she was a re­gu­lar at the he­do­nis­tic Stu­dio 54, as were Liza Min­nel­li, Hals­ton, and many ot­hers. Ac­cor­ding to the fas­hi­on de­sig­ner Di­a­ne Von Furs­ten­berg – anot­her re­gu­lar at Stu­dio 54 – in New York, they all knew how to par­ty!

In ad­di­ti­on to Min­nel­li, Dalì, and War­hol, the ico­nic fi­gu­res fe­a­tu­red at the ex­hi­bit inc­lu­de Mu­ham­mad Ali, who fought some of his most im­por­tant bo­xing matc­hes at Ma­di­son Squ­a­re Gar­den but al­so his bat­t­les with the US go­vern­ment: he was draf­ted in 1967 but re­fu­sed to join Ame­ri­can troops in Viet­nam. Ci­ro­ne pho­tog­rap­hed Ali se­ve­ral ti­mes; the ex­hi­bit photo was ta­ken at a fund­rai­sing event or­ga­ni­zed by Ted Ken­ne­dy in 1977. In 1973, Ci­ro­ne im­mor­ta­li­zed the self-iden­ti­fied drag qu­een Mars­ha P. John­son and Syl­via Ri­ve­ra, a Pu­er­to Ri­can trans­gen­der wo­man on the steps of City Hall at the New York Di­a­mond Ju­bi­lee. John­son and Ri­ve­ra were on the front­li­nes of the Sto­ne­wall ri­ots that erup­ted in June 1969. Af­ter a rou­ti­ne po­li­ce raid of Sto­ne­wall, a Chris­top­her Street gay bar, the crowd re­fu­sed to le­a­ve and star­ted launc­hing sto­nes and bricks at the po­li­ce and bur­ning cars in pro­test of gay disc­ri­mi­na­ti­on. It has been hai­led as the star­ting point of gay li­be­ra­ti­on mo­ve­ment in the Uni­ted Sta­tes. In 1970, Ri­ve­ra and John­son foun­ded the Street Trans­ves­ti­te Ac­ti­on Re­vo­lu­ti­o­na­ries (STAR) Hou­se in East Vil­la­ge as a shel­ter for trans / LGBT yo­uth, many of them ho­me­less.

Anot­her trans­wo­man that Ci­ro­ne pho­tog­rap­hed was the pe­ti­te and pret­ty Ve­nus Xtra­va­gan­za, al­so a sex wor­ker like John­son and Ri­ve­ra. She was in­ter­vie­wed in Jen­nie Li­vings­ton’s do­cu­men­ta­ry Pa­ris is Bur­ning (1990). In De­cem­ber 1988, she was found un­der the bed at the Dutc­hess Ho­tel strang­led. She was on­ly 23 ye­ars old.

Among the 31 pho­tos ex­hi­bi­ted in Hel­sin­ki were pic­tu­res of film and fas­hi­on shoots, of the fil­ming of The Great Gats­by (1974) with Sam Wa­ters­ton as Nick Car­ra­way and Lois Chi­les as Jor­dan Ba­ker, and fas­hi­on pic­tu­res from the 1980s, a de­ca­de that int­ro­du­ced the first su­per­mo­dels. In sum, the pho­tog­raphs disp­la­yed at Bet­ti­na Ci­ro­ne: Aper­tu­re on New York City, 1960-1980 in­vi­ted the vie­wer to ex­pe­rien­ce a spe­ci­fic time and place: New York City of the 1960s-1980s.


Sir­pa Sa­le­nius, PhD., is an As­so­ci­a­te Re­se­arc­her at La­bo­ra­toi­re de Rec­herc­he sur les Cul­tu­res Ang­lop­ho­nes (LAR­CA) in Pa­ris, Fran­ce, Ex­ter­nal Af­fi­li­a­te at Uni­ver­si­ty Col­le­ge Lon­don Sa­rah Par­ker Re­mond Cent­re for the Study of Ra­cism and Ra­ci­a­li­sa­ti­on (Lon­don, UK), and af­fi­li­a­ted with the Uni­ver­si­ty of Eas­tern Fin­land (Jo­en­suu). Her mo­nog­raphs inc­lu­de An Abo­li­ti­o­nist Ab­ro­ad: Sa­rah Par­ker Re­mond in Cos­mo­po­li­tan Eu­ro­pe (Uni­ver­si­ty of Mas­sac­hu­set­ts Press, 2016). She is pre­sent­ly wri­ting a bi­og­rap­hy of Bet­ti­na Ci­ro­ne and pre­pa­ring a book of Ci­ro­ne’s pho­tog­raphs. The ex­hi­bi­ti­on was cu­ra­ted and or­ga­ni­zed by Sa­le­nius, in col­la­bo­ra­ti­on with Nina Öh­man and Jan­ne Lah­ti, Fin­nish Ame­ri­can Stu­dies As­so­ci­a­ti­on, and SAM-Hel­sin­ki.