On The Streets of America in the Early 1980s : Relaxing WIth Cigarettes And No AC

‘These photographs were made between 1979 and 1985 in a pre-digital, largely non-air-conditioned era, when people fled the heat of their houses to hang out in their yards and on the street. I notice a kind of relaxed sensuality in many of the pictures. Time moved more slowly; restlessness led to spontaneous play. Young people back then were fit and lean from running around outside with their friends and neighbours”

Sage Sohier


Lawrence, MA, 1981

“I spent a lot of time photographing in the post-industrial towns around Boston: Lawrence, Lowell, Fall River, New Bedford, Fitchburg. I came upon this couple returning from shopping in Lawrence. I loved their plaid pants and the railroad tracks, factory smoke stacks, and the sign “American Food” in the background – a quintessentially American scene”

– Sage Sohier


East Boston, MA, 1981

“During the isolation of the pandemic, I had the opportunity to revisit my archive of negatives and contact sheets from the 1980s, and discovered a number of interesting images taken that I had never printed,” says Sage. “A lot of time has passed since these wanderings, and though much is still vivid in my mind, I wish I had kept a journal about the people I met, the conversations I had, and the strange and wonderful things that I noticed along the way.”


Sage Sahier

Amigo Hollow, WV, 1982

“In June of 1982, after visiting my mother in northern Virginia (where I had grown up), I headed to West Virginia for about eight days. I was excited to find this family swimming in Amigo Hollow. The people are clearly aware of me, and some are performing for the camera, yet at the same time they seem relaxed and quite natural. This combination of performance and spontaneity (more difficult to capture in today’s self-conscious world) has always interested me”

– Sage Sohier


Sage Sohier

Boston, 1982

“I often photographed in south Boston – it was a visually striking working-class neighbourhood and there was always a lot of activity. It has since become gentrified, because it’s beautifully situated on the ocean. I ran into these boys and asked if I could photograph them. The boy on the left is the only one who is convincingly tough; I like how they become more and more like little boys the closer they are to me”

– Sage Sohier


Sage Sohier

Perrine, FL, 1981 a

“During the winter, when it was cold in Boston, I would head south for a week or two, looking for people outside. I came upon this young couple wandering around Perrine, Florida in 1981. I like how attentive he is, how demure she is, and how their shadows are entwined. The radio is very 1980s!”

– Sage Sohier


Sage Sohier

Belle Glade, FL, 1981

“Belle Glade is an isolated town near Lake Okeechobee in central Florida, which has a lot more in common with the deep south than coastal Florida. I found these young people dancing on the steps of a small house, and was taken by their ability to amuse themselves and find joy in everyday life.”


Mill Creek, WV, 1982

‘These young women seem to be as curious about me as I am about them. The presence of so many cigarettes is typical of the 1980s, and I love the wonderful spontaneity of the younger girls hanging upside down in the background. It’s kind of like a play-within-a-play.”

– Sage Sohier


Newburgh, NY, 1983

“Though asking permission usually changed the dynamic of the situation, interesting things would often emerge when I was allowed to stay for longer than a picture or two…

“Intruding on people’s personal space could feel awkward, and was never easy to do, but most of the time it seemed that my enthusiasm was contagious and people were able to relax and be themselves.”


Outside South Station, Boston, MA, 1980

“As a young photographer, my rather grandiose ambition was to create a portrait of contemporary America by photographing people in their environments. I was obsessed with making the best, most complex pictures of people hanging out in neighbourhoods, in their homes, and on their porches. I had to work quite quickly, so that I could let people get back to whatever they were doing when I first asked if I could photograph them”

– Sage Sohier


Wilkes-Barre, PA, 1983

Illinois, 1985

“I had flown to St Louis to attend a friend’s wedding, and decided to spend a few days afterwards trying to make pictures in nearby Illinois, Indiana and northern Kentucky. I happened on this girl standing by a mailbox. I’m interested in how the figures on all-terrain vehicles in the background appear rather menacing; they turned out to be her brothers, whom I photographed later.”

– Sage Sohier


Perrine, FL, 1981


‘”Meeting people (in order to photograph them) was thrilling, and it changed me. Being a photographer has been a wonderful excuse to wander and to be inquisitive about the lives and experiences of others. I will always be grateful to the people pictured here – not just for allowing me to spend time making pictures of them – but also for how these interactions informed and enriched my life”

– Sage Sohier


Near Hometown, PA, 1983


Sage Sohier: Passing Time is available from Setanta books/Nazraeli Press. All photographs: Sage Sohier

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