‘I wanted to show well-off people the underclass – where they lived, how they lived, what they did’
In 1952, I came back to New York after studying in Chicago, keen to break new ground. I decided to use colour to document what people were doing, even though colour was not what museums wanted. The other problem was that colour film was so slow. You needed fast lenses and enough sunlight. Still, I felt that I could not only succeed, but do better than what had gone before.
The first shots I took were at the Italian festival in downtown New York. The second were at Coney Island in winter. That’s when this was taken. In the summer, Coney Island was like Brighton in England. We didn’t have air-conditioning back then – you’d have thousands of people on the beach, because it was the only way to get out of the heat of the city. There were still remnants of the early 1900s: beer gardens, silent movies, carousels.