FULTON FISH MARKET New York City 1975Copyright Photographs by Gildo Nicolo Spadoni at 20 years old
The history of the original Fulton Fish Market, the oldest fish market in The United States, goes back to 1822. In November 2005, it moved to Hunts Point in the Bronx, closing its downtown doors forever. However, my adventure in the market with my father started in 1975, and luckily, these black and white photographs preserved the memory and essence of the market at that time.
I was studying Photography at FIT back in November 1975 and felt the need to get out into the city and do a personal assignment for myself during recess. So, early one morning at 4:30 AM, I grabbed my camera, some film and a flash and tried to wipe the sleep from my eyes. My father, who was more excited than me, decided to come with me because in Europe, he had been a cabin boy on a fishing boat in the Adriatic Sea in 1924. He was 12 years old at the time.
We drove in his gold ‘73 Dodge Charger from Astoria on the BQE, bumping along the many potholes till we hit the exit for the Brooklyn Bridge to cross the river into Manhattan.
Upon arrival, we proceeded to find a choice parking spot in a lot on Pearl St. Little did we know that it was a highly reserved and protected space. When we were leaving, we found out from a distinguished gentleman with a wool cap and a short cigar, that we were lucky to have avoided four flat tires.
The constant motion of trucks, vans and hand trucks bouncing over wet, smelly uneven cobblestones gave the market an atmosphere all its own. Adding another layer to this energetic rhythm were the sounds of hard-working men in big rubber boots pushing and pulling the daily catch in boxes and wooden crates in every direction with their ever present long shoreman’s hook. Open fires in trash cans provided the only heat, and the pungent smell of seafood in the cold air grabbed you by your nostrils.
It was my first time there. I was a bit hesitant taking the first few photographs and expecting a dirty look, but once I saw a grin or two, I knew I was accepted by the crew in their working space. I got so caught up in the frenzy of the moment and began shooting like I belonged there; no words. I just pointed to my subject, then to the camera. A quick nod one fast ‘’click’’ and then I moved on to the next market location. I planned on staying for 1 hour or so, because with a name like Gildo coming from Astoria, I knew I had a limited amount of time before I got kicked the hell out.
The place was vast, so it was easy to move around and not bump into anything or anyone; I moved it and out from one situation to the next to avoid getting in anyone’s way.
The sun started coming up, and we managed to drive home with all our tires inflated. I proceeded to hit the shower smelling of smoke and salmon and then descended into my basement darkroom to develop and print some of the photographs. I would go back to the market later and give them out to the men I photographed.
Learning our parking lesson, we returned to an indoor parking lot, paid a couple of bucks for 2 hours and went back into the market like we owned the place. Gas was $0.57 a gallon at the time.
I made the rounds, giving out 8X10 glossies to all the familiar faces that I had photographed. All the grins turned into smiles, and a few fish and lobsters wrapped in newspaper were presented to my father and me as a thank you. All in all, the second visit was much more relaxed than the first, and I was able to find quieter moments for one-on-one portraits.
I am hoping that some of the people I will meet at the new market in the Bronx will be able to identify some of the old faces and complete this, my third memory project in photographs.
Some things stay the same, and some things change. The market on Fulton St. will forever be remembered by me because of great New Yorkers who once worked there and called it their second home.
I was incredibly happy to share this moment with my father, Gildo J.