Ray Simone is a photographer and lifelong New Yorker who’s been scouring flea markets, stoop sales, estate sales, and street fairs all across New York City since the 1970s & 80s. Why? Ray was on the hunt to buy any and all the old photo negatives he could find.

Over those years of hunting, Ray’s managed to get some glass plate negatives that date as far back as the 1890s! Thanks to this constant search he now owns an amazing archive of original photos of Old New York, a set of beautiful black and white photos that are not available anywhere else.

Ray personally digitizes each photo and painstakingly retouches them, (Restoration style), pixel by pixel, giving us glorious glimpses of the New York City of yore. The basement of his Brooklyn home is filled with stunning prints of New York, not available anywhere else.

Times Square Celebration

We had the chance to speak briefly with Ray and felt it was worth sharing his incredible work. Not just his images, but the work he’s put into restoring these otherwise lost and forgotten pieces of history!

What Gave You The Idea and Inspiration To Start This Project?

“I have been a professional photographer for over 30 years but for the last 10 focusing on my original camera negative archive that I accumulated over the last 25 years.  I starting collecting photographs when I was 10 years old (my first image was a shot of the Bowery Boys). Then switching to original camera negatives after becoming a photographer and stumbling upon many at the flea markets that used to spring up in the empty parking lots that used to litter 6th Avenue between 14 & 34th Streets in Manhattan.

The inspiration to do this happened once business slowed from photography turning digital. I was walking around my studio, which is filled with negatives, and realizing the photography market is saturated with modern travel, food, and portrait photography and many people are yearning to look at the past, a simpler time.”

[Related Reading: Meet Juho Leppenan of Camera Rescue in Finland & His Paradise of Vintage Camera Equipment]

Which Image Are You Most Proud Of And Why?  On Average, How Long Does Each Photo Take To Finish?

I am quite proud of quite a few images after working on them for 40+ hours. One of Frank Sinatra, some NYC trolleys c.1915, and one shot of a group of English maids from 1890.  It was a labor-intensive process to restore each of these.

[Related Reading: See Some of the Oldest Photographs in the History of Photography]

Have You Ever Tracked Down Any Of The Original Shooters?

No, I haven’t tried to track down the photographers although occasionally it is on the negative sleeve. I spend so much time retouching and identifying the actual locations of the NYC city scenes there isn’t much time left in the day.

Any Rough Estimate On The Total Number Of Negatives You’ve Acquired Over The Years?

I don’t have an actual number of the number of negatives in my collection but I’d say 10,000 plus or minus.

Where Did you Learn Your Restoration And Retouching Techniques?

NYU and SVA had many continuing education courses in Photoshop that I would attend to help me learn the program.

Every image has a story, how he found it, how he worked on it, what was captured, what that particular New York streetscape looks like now, and so much more. You can view more of Ray’s collection on his official website along with some additional restoration and personal projects he’s done over his career.

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