(This is Part I of a II part project)
The NYT recently dubbed Bushwick; “the newest Bohemia… arguably the coolest place on the planet”. The neighborhood is on the frontier of gentrification. East Bushwick has not been entirely cleansed of its community and heritage; it is at a moment of optimal diversity and relative well being which will soon end.
I have begun to document this change through a series of ‘straight’ black and white portraits.
These uninteruppted images, give pause with their directness, concentrating attention on each face whose eyes return the gaze, affirming their existence and requesting acknowledgement. In New York City, we look down and away, too busy to meet the eyes of strangers, or fearful that the might ask us for the most precious of emotional commodities: recognition.
The “white-kids” (young urban social climbers) having found that “Brooklyn is More Than a Name – It’s a Way of Life”, because that is what the advertisements tell them, pushing the boundary of gentrification further east along the L-Train from Williamsburg searching for something, anything, authentic. They, having discovered hip niches in an urban landscape, begin to build colonies of the upper bourgeoisie, taking over buildings and driving up the cost of rent, forcibly evicting locals, which have had the misfortune of not arousing the interests of landlords and capitalist investors.
I grew up on West Houston Street, in one of the oldest Italian neighborhoods in the country. During this time, the mid 1980’s, New York and especially Soho went through a radical gentrification. Displaced, our family moved from the neighborhood where my father had lived for over 20 years. As a result, we moved out of the city and across the country. Because of this experience my work, whether covering Occupy Wall St, protests, Charcoal Production in Haiti and Aftermath of the Earthquake, or the streets of New York City has always been about political, cultural and emotion isolation, alienation and loneliness.
The color of Bushwick is changing. The social panorama reflects this and there is a direct conflict of values between communities with a shared culture, history and language and those formed from a class position and wealth.
Ideally, these faces would be displayed side-by-side contrasting the faces of local communities with those of recent arrivals. The faces are not static images; but are alive in the typography of skin; embodying contrast, symbols, destiny and future of these disparate communities.
There still remains a community; albeit an increasingly tattered one, like the neglected Puerto Rican flags that hang across the streets from one tenement to another, fluttering in the breeze. Where people sit on their stoops in the same buildings where they grew up, the same buildings in which they raise their children. They drink beer and talk about; the good ol’ days, the cops, work, or how there isn’t any, the neighborhood where they spent their childhoods, stickball in the streets, and running through fire hydrants in the crackling heat of New York August.