In April 2018, The New York Times ran an interactive piece about a conservancy official who found two cardboard boxes that had been untouched for decades, containing 2,924 colour slides. The photos were by eight Times photographers who were idled after the newspaper strike in 1978, after which they met with Gordon J. Davis, the then city parks commissioner and proposed that they roamed the city’s parks photographing the summer scenes. What resulted is a series of warm, syrupy images that capture New York City’s unique summer spirit and which lie in contrast to the rough image with which 1970s New York is often associated. Today, the images have disappeared again. Only an editor’s note about an unspecified copyright dispute and faint digital traces of the images remain – ran in photo blogs, forums and Pinterest boards.
Lucky for us, Something Special Studios, a New York-based creative studio founded in 2016, was inspired by this photo series to create something of their own, releasing their iteration as an annual photo book titled Summer of Something Special the second edition of which was released yesterday, 14 November. “The photos captured such a distinct and organic summer energy that we wanted to replicate it for a publication of our own,” Michael Goldberg, the studio’s founder, tells It’s Nice That. The book features the work of 13 photographers – Renell Medrano, Julian Klincewicz, Nick Sethi, Jim Mangan, Amanda Fordyce, Thibaut Grevet, Rebekah Campbell, Bella Newman, Beth Garrabrant, Jamil Baldwin, Machine Operated, Adam Zhu and Jules Muir – who capture the subjects that they deem special, and who were selected for their documentary style of photography and ability to capture the spirit of the summer of 2019. “The publication can be seen as a group diary, with each photographer communicating that particular energy of summer in a way that only they can,” Michael explains.
Facilitated through Ssspecial Projects, the studio’s platform for creative collaboration, the book features an array of summer activities and scenes that captures, but not imitates, the same summer spirit from the original series. A broken, cast arm holding the shaka sign is set against a Volvo hatchback overloaded with surfboards and a fuzzy cat; a neighbourhood boxer shows his intimate side as he lets a young girl in boxing gloves tap him on his nose.
“As with all of our work, we approached Summer of Something Special as collaboratively as possible. Each team member submitted photographers they sought to include in the book,” Michael says. Together, the team whittled down the suggestions into a collection of photographers that they felt would contribute a unique viewpoint. “We didn’t want the book to feel as if all the photographers were having the same experiences as we wanted Summer of Something Special to feel like a unique and varied representation of what was going on in the world in the summer of 2019.”
The studio highlights a few works that it felt particularly excited by. For Michael, his personal favourite was the work of Jamil Baldwin, who contributed the boxing images amongst other photographs of his friends getting haircuts and going for a night drive. Jillian Hoey, the studio’s creative strategist, was particularly fond of Jules Muir’s work, who was chosen from an open call the studio did through Instagram. “Jules beautifully captures a simple moment in such a soft and pure, yet wildly powerful way. His photos feel gently personal and remarkably narrative,” she says of the photographer’s series featuring a man named Cheston flying a kite in Prospect Park in Brooklyn.
“Overall, we didn’t want a photo book that felt over-designed. With such a variety of photographic styles, it had to feel clean and let the images have full focus,” Sammie Purulak, the studio’s designer says. “We wanted to make the process as collaborative as possible with their input and involvement in the design of their chapters, giving them freedom on aspects such as the pairing of images on a spread, the order of their images, the sizing and positioning and whether they wanted to include text or not.” Sammie notes that this process elevated the book, creating a different structure for each photographer’s series that avoided a repetitive template-like design.
All the proceeds from the book’s sale are going to the American Civil Liberties Union, a key non-profit in supporting individual rights and liberty in the States. “The book is what it is because of their photography and we really appreciate the opportunity to put out this book,” Michael says. With the end of the year approaching, it’s just the right time to for those plummeting towards winter to get nostalgic about the fuzzy days of a busy summer.
About the Author
Alif joined It's Nice That as an editorial assistant from September to December 2019 after completing an MA in Digital Media at Goldsmiths, University of London. His writing often looks at the impact of art and technology on society.