By Jordan Heller
MANHATTAN — If New Yorkers could choose one object from 1980s street culture to place in a time capsule, it would have to be the boombox — that bygone portable radio/cassette player otherwise known as the "ghetto blaster."
A new exhibit, simply titled "The Boombox," which opened Tuesday at the Clic Gallery at 255 Centre St. in SoHo, fetishizes these relics of the analog age with 25 fine-art photographs of various late '70s and '80s models.
The photographer, Lyle Owerko, has been collecting vintage boomboxes for more than a decade.
"The project was inspired by thinking of the boombox as an icon for so many things: free speech, creativity, expression, defiance, celebration," Owerko said.
Locally, he argued that the boombox was a "central character in the New York cityscape of the '70s and '80s" and played an important role in the spread of New York hip-hop.
"The boombox was a powerful tool," Owerko noted. "It's why it still endures as a visual."
In conjunction with the show, which runs through Dec. 5, Abrams Books is publishing "The Boombox Project: The Machines, The Music, and the Urban Underground."
The book is a collection of Owerko's fine art images accompanied by documentary photographs and essays on boombox culture by such New York hip-hop figures as Fab 5 Freddy, Kool Moe Dee, LL Cool J and Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys , as well as a foreward by Spike Lee.
But the boombox is not just a symbol for hip-hop culture, Owerko explained.
"It speaks loudly for the trash and skate-rock movement, which was a hidden ambassador to the dominance of the boombox," said the photographer, describing the first image in this story's accompanying slideshow, which features a busted up boombox customized with stickers promoting old hardcore bands.
"That box simply begs to tell a story," Owerko added. "It's obviously lived a hard-knock life and has the scars to prove it."