New York/Lower East Side

Orchard Street 1909

Throughout working on my Lower East Side project, I have been aware of the rich photographic history attached to the neighborhood. Turn of the century photographers like Lewis Hine and Jacob Riis established the image of the LES as a place of hardship and corruption in need of social reform. Later, Berenice Abbot photographed the streetscape and architecture while Helen Levitt focused on life in the streets. Rebecca Lepkoff  vividly, if somewhat sentimentally, chronicled Jewish culture, and Nan Goldin revealed the interior lives of a generation of  artists and musicians. There are many others who have contributed to this history in myriad ways.

But the dominant visual icon of the Lower East Side has always been similar to the photo above: a teaming street full of pushcarts and wayward children, a solid wall of tenements receding into the distance hung with fire escapes and signage, a vibrant scene of urban life, however physically poor and begrimed. This photograph comes from the Detroit Publishing Company by way of the blog Shorpy, one of my favorite places to visit on the internet, which features high resolution historic photographs found in the public domain.

Orchard Street 1980 — © Brian Rose/Ed Fausty

The picture above that Ed Fausty and I did in 1980 strongly echoes the 1909 image. It’s the same corner except looking the opposite direction taken on a Sunday when Orchard is closed to vehicular traffic. I was aware of the homage when we took it, though I doubt that I had seen the exact picture shown above. There are a number of others, not much different. On the one hand, I was obsessed with doing something new, using color film to create a portrait of a place in a way not seen before. On the other hand, I wanted to connect to the history of photography, especially as it pertained to the Lower East Side itself. This image of Orchard Street, as much as any in my new book Time and Space on the Lower East Side, is a bridge to that past.

Last night I unveiled Time and Space at the Duo Theater on East 4th Street. There were about 80 people there, a full house, and I was pleased to see some familiar faces, some of whom were surprises. I noticed there was a contingent of Kickstarter backers, the people who helped raise the money to do the book. My publisher, Bill Diodato was there, and I was especially happy to see Alex Harsley, photographer and host of the 4th Street Photo Gallery, whom Time and Space is dedicated to.

Here is a snippet of video from the evening off of an iPhone:

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