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photo documentation

From huck magazine:

The photographer who defined old-school cool

Street symphony

Posted
Text by Alex King
Photography © Jamal Shabazz

Jamel Shabazz has spent his life documenting the city that never sleeps. But while his shots of urban street style have become iconic, the bigger picture – a world of police and prostitutes, drifters and dancers – reveals something much deeper: a commitment to community.

It’s early morning in Rikers Island jail and a young corrections officer named Jamel Shabazz has just begun his first inspection. The residential wing is so hot that the stench of stale cigarettes and dead rodents hangs heavily.

There is a line of 30 units on both sides of the corridor, each one of them holding a juvenile inmate who may have trashed his cell, retreated to a corner or hung himself with a bed sheet.

“To make a physical count, you have to make sure a body is in each cell,” Jamel explains. And there is an abundance of bodies.

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It’s the mid-1980s and a crack epidemic is sweeping through New York City, generating a wave of violence that’s carrying thousands of young black men into the city’s prisons and morgues.

“It felt like being in a lifeboat watching a sinking ship and you can only help so many people,” says Jamel, thinking back to that time.

“But it didn’t stop me from going to work every single day looking for someone to connect with and provide direction to.”

Working in prison made Jamel’s mission clear to him: he became determined to steer young men away from ruining their lives, feeding a vicious cycle of regret. And it didn’t take long for him to realise how he’d do that.

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Think of old-school hip hop and, chances are, you will conjure up one of Jamel Shabazz’s unforgettable portraits. Jamel came of age during the birth of rap in mid-70s New York. He remembers block parties in Coffey Park, Brooklyn, where a group of DJs and MCs would “hot-wire” the electricity supply of a lamppost to keep the party going long into the night.

His photobook Back in the Days immortalises the b-boys, boomboxes and big hair of 1980s New York City in one cornerstone document. But the purpose behind these images has often gone overlooked.

“I don’t get caught up on the fashion,” he says. “My photographs have always been about the personal connections I make in my attempt to communicate what’s going on in the streets.”

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Jamel’s new book, Sights in the City, aims to redress that balance by showcasing his street photography in one place for the first time. It spans the duration of his career and illuminates the complex city that has defined his life.

Growing up in the Red Hook area of Brooklyn, Jamel discovered photography through his father, a naval combat photographer who taught him to carry a loaded camera at all times.

Initially borrowing his mother’s cheap Kodak, the 15-year-old began directing groups of his friends into poses and developing a signature style.

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Capturing the Lower East Side’s Disappearing Mom-and-Pop Storefronts, a photography and oral history exhibition, opens tonight, 6pm, at Theater For The New City Gallery, 155 1st Ave [10th]. It’s curated by James and Karla Murray, the husband-and-wife photography team that have documented so many mom-and pop-storefronts, compiled in their books Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York and its followup.

The show is intended to raise awareness of the essential NYC character that these businesses embody, threatened by skyrocketing rents. You’ll see the work of 30 photographers who participated in two workshops in April and June with the Murrays focusing on neighborhood stores. Since the workshops took place, two of the stores photographed by participants have closed.

The event is free and there will be complimentary wine and beer, as well as small bites, provided by local indie merchants, of course.…

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Vanishing New York, the book, was officially released this past Tuesday, after having been available for pre-order. However, assorted independent book shops in the New York area are scheduling book-launch events at their individual locations.

From Vanishing New York, the blog:

You can also get a copy at the launch party this Thursday night at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, or next Thursday night at the Brooklyn launch party at powerHouse Arena. For a full list of book events, click here.

In the meantime, check out two exclusive excerpts: the East Village chapter at Longreads and the tourism chapter at Vice.

 …

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From Hyperallergic:


Aerial view up the East River (May 27, 1960, photo by Theodore V. Donaldson)
Aerial view up the East River (May 27, 1960, photo by Theodore V. Donaldson) (all images courtesy NYC Municipal Archives)

The Brooklyn waterfront is radically changing. The Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg is transforming into residential and commercial space, both inside its hollowed-out brick building and outside with new glassy high-rises. Towers are pending for long-quiet Greenpoint. And Brooklyn Bridge Park is altering the former industrial area of Dumbo and Brooklyn Heights with green space and, naturally, condos. It’s from the perspective of that park that the NYC Municipal Archives examined the East River shore’s long history of change.

A Century on the Brooklyn Waterfront was one of the shipping container exhibitions at Photoville, held earlier this month in the Pier 5 Uplands in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Curated by Public Records Officer Quinn Berkman and Paper and Archival Conservator Cynthia Brenwall, the exhibition drew on the NYC Municipal Archives’ 221,000 cubic feet of material, particularly its collections on the WPA Federal Writers’ and Art projects (1935–43) and the Department of Bridges (1901–39).

“The ability to appreciate what parks were before they were public recreational areas is important, and the Brooklyn Bridge Park is so relevant because the transformation is so recent,” Berkman told Hyperallergic. Many of the photographs were printed from glass plate negatives, and date from between 1870 and 1974, revealing the rise of the Brooklyn Bridge, and the concentration of maritime commercial activity on the Brooklyn piers long before they were replaced with parks.

View of Lower Manhattan from the Brooklyn Tower of the Brooklyn Bridge (1890)
View of Lower Manhattan from the Brooklyn Tower of the Brooklyn Bridge (1890) (click to enlarge)

“I think it is important to remember that Brooklyn was the heart of the city’s import business,” Berkman explained. “What is now seen as real estate opportunity was once used purely for the ports and trade industry.” It was only in the 1970s that the area was designated as a landmarked neighborhood and the repurposing of warehouses began. “It’s pretty incredible because once the Brooklyn Bridge opened, this part of Brooklyn was considered Manhattan’s first suburb, however by the 60s it cycled back into an industrial zone and now it is back to being a residential neighborhood,” she added.

The NYC Municipal Archives has recently been making more of its photographs accessible online, from the documentation of the NYPD’s “Alien Squad,” which monitored potentially subversive political groups in the 1930s and ’40s, to the around 30,000 crime photographs from 1914 to 1975 released earlier this year. As the photographs were taken for municipal government use — during the construction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway or the renovation of the Brooklyn Piers, for instance — some of the creators’ names are now lost. In addition to their original purposes, they now form an essential record of the city’s changing character.

“These photographs are not just ‘iconic’ images of old NYC, they are used to understand and preserve the history of the city,” Berkman said. “Photography is one of the best mediums to use to tell a story and send a message, which is also why it has just as complex of a history as New York does.”

View of the Manhattan Bridge from Jay and York Streets (January 4, 1912, photo by Eugene de Salignac)
View of the Manhattan Bridge from Jay and York Streets (January 4, 1912, photo by Eugene de Salignac)
Aerial view of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and Atlantic Avenue (September 19, 1956)
Aerial view of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and Atlantic Avenue (September 19, 1956)
Aerial view taken above Atlantic Avenue and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. 1 Brooklyn Bridge Park was once home to the New York Dock Company. (September 19, 1956) (photo by Theodore V. Donaldson)
Aerial view taken above Atlantic Avenue and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

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Neighborhood Movie Nights 2016-2017

Every month, 7-9pm; doors open at 6:30pm
St. Paul’s Chapel (Broadway and Fulton Street)
You’re invited to take a cinematic stroll down New York’s memory lane at St. Paul’s Chapel, which is celebrating its 250th anniversary on October 30. Each movie will be accompanied by a brief talk about New York and St. Paul’s Chapel during the time period of the monthly featured film.
Admission and snacks are free.  Films are suitable for general audiences – most are rated PG13.

Friday, October 28: The Cameraman (1928)

Friday, November 18: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

Friday, December 16: Remember the Night (1940)

Friday, January 27: Funny Face (1957)

Friday, February 24: The Odd Couple (1968)

Friday, March 24: Love Story (1970)

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