While reading the New Yorker I came across a quote attributed to late choreographer Merce Cunningham. From Joan Acocela’s article:
…stories or even themes put the spectator in the position of someone standing on a street corner waiting for a friend who is late: you can’t see the cars or the buildings or the sky , he said, because “everything and everyone is not the person you await.”
Likewise with photographs. If you latch too much onto familiar visual narratives, other meanings, other connections, will not be made. This is true both for the image maker and the viewer.
With that caution in mind, here are six recent images of the Bowery made with the 4×5 view camera. I did them in conjunction with a class I was teaching at ICP, and as part of my ongoing project to photograph the Bowery. The block above includes the New Museum on the left, the Bowery Mission and the Salvation Army building, the tall one in the middle. The latter are vestiges of the Bowery’s skid row past, though they and a couple other organizations still provide services for a more scattered homeless/street population. The gentrification of the Bowery, however, is proceeding rapidly.
Some of the roll-down window gates were recently decorated by artists. This one is by the notable graffiti artist Kenny Scharf.
The townhouse at left is from 1817 and is one of the few protected landmark buildings in New York to have its status rescinded. The owner wants to demolish and construct an office building. From the Villager:
(City Councilwoman) Chin noted that she has supported many landmark designations on the Bowery. “But in this instance, I have to look at the bigger picture and find a balance. There is an opportunity to help the community recover from [the World Trade Center attack], which it hasn’t done. I just hope that the advocates will see my point of view on this and that we will have the opportunity to continue to work to preserve the historic character of the Bowery. But on this building we will have to differ.” Chin said.
The reality, of course, is that the Bowery and lower Manhattan is a boomtown.
It is true that the Bowery exhibits a ragtag collection of buildings from many different time periods. It does not present a unified urban landscape in the way that historic rows of townhouses dominate parts of Greenwich Village, or blocks of cast iron loft buildings define the streets of Soho. Nevertheless, there is much architecture worth saving, though sometimes one might have to peel away some of the layers to get to it.
Another similar sized townhouse from 1785–the Edward Mooney house–a well-maintained landmark containing a Chinatown bank.