Atlantic City is known throughout the world, but you might not expect to see a photo exhibition about the resort in Barcelona, Spain.
But customers walking into Or Verd cafe in that city can get a glimpse back to 1980s Atlantic City thanks to the documentary photography of former Surf City resident Janet Greco.
Greco, a photographer and designer who has been based in Europe since 1981, made multiple visits to Atlantic City from 1981 to 1986 and photographed the resort and the surrounding areas. Her 18-photo exhibit is titled, "Trump and the 80s Transformation of Atlantic City."
"Atlantic City is fabulous. It's just absolutely an amazing place," Greco said on a recent visit to the shore town. "I remember coming here with my parents when I was a kid. Our vacation was to get in the car and drive from Pennsauken, down the Black Horse Pike and the White Horse Pike and come to Atlantic City for the day," Greco said. "There are pictures of me as a baby on the beach here."
Greco has been taking pictures for 35 years, but this is the first solo European exhibition of her work. Last year she moved to Barcelona for the masters in photography and design program at ELISAVA, the Barcelona School of Design and Engineering.
Greco made it clear to her professors that she had an archive of photos she has determined to do something with.
"I kept shooting and shooting. I put the negatives in a box. Eventually, I put the negatives in a file. The file grew to be 16 boxes, which I have been carrying around for the last 35 years. That's how passionate I am about the photography. It's like my life is in those boxes," Greco said. "I'm a very nostalgic person. I really believe things should be preserved."
Greco, 54, took a photojournalism course in 1980 at Temple University in Philadelphia. She purchased her first camera in New York City the week the class began, and he has been shooting pictures ever since. Even after she moved to Europe, the desire to shoot pictures of Atlantic City kept drawing her back.
The black-and-white images in Greco's exhibit include the Atlantic City Boardwalk, the old Steeplechase Pier, Captain Starn's Restaurant and the buses that brought gamblers from neighboring states to the resort.
She considers this exhibit a huge opportunity.
"It's the first really serious show that I've had. I have had one or two really tiny shows here in New Jersey, but they were not anywhere near the scale and scope of what I have done to prepare for this particular show," Greco said.
With the pictures from the 1980s, Greco had to sort through boxes of negatives and contact sheets, a different experience than dealing with digital images.
"You don't have software that helps you classify, and then, you push one button, and all the Atlantic City images appear. It was super tedious," Greco said.
Greco came up with the idea for the show in collaboration with her professors in December. The show opened in early March and will hang in the cafe until April 30.
"I had the negatives professionally scanned and professionally retouched because I'm studying, and I have homework, and I couldn't do everything myself," said Greco. But there's more New Jersey in the exhibit than just the photographs. "I was here at Christmastime," she said. "I bought all the frames here."
Greco said the show represents the best images she was able to capture during that era.
"I always shoot for myself, to please myself," she said. "I think that's part of the reason why I didn't become a professional photographer. Because I just wanted to make the pictures that please me, and if they please you too, I'm happy. I really love capturing things and having those memories somehow be accessible."
Greco is a Camden County native. Since 1981, she has lived in five different European countries, but she remains fascinated by southern New Jersey. During the 1980s, she made frequent trips back to New Jersey and to Atlantic City. She has also lived in Surf City, and her sister has a home on Long Beach Island.
Greco has fond memories of when there were bathing houses on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.
"On the odd occasion, we would stay in a motel, one block off the beach," Greco said. "I always was excited to come down here. I looked forward to the piers, the amusement rides, the food, the smells, the salt air, the seagull sounds, all that stuff," Greco said.
Greco began showing her work in public 10 years ago. AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center commissioned 18 of her photographs for permanent display in 2007. She had three large photographs as part of a Weird NJ Exhibition in 2009 and 2010 at the Noyes Museum of Art of Stockton University in Galloway Township.
One of her biggest supporters has been Wendel A. White, a distinguished professor of art at Stockton.
"I always thought it was interesting work. It was compelling," White said. "I think she has a great eye and an interest in people and places."
In March, Greco was back in Atlantic City because she wanted to reshoot the subjects in the Or Verd show and see what they look like now.
"I have been trying to track down certain locations," she said during the visit. "For example, this morning, I finally figured out where Captain Starn's was. And in fact, tomorrow I'm going to meet with the great nephew of Captain Starn's, and I'm so excited about that," Greco said.