New York Photo Review
Volume 2 Issue 45 December 20 to January 3, 2012

Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat
The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino
Soho Photo Gallery
Central Booking Magazine

Looking Back
Meryl Meisler
Here I Am: Bushwick in the 1980’s
Ed Barnas
 by Meryl Meisler. Source: sohophoto.com
Meryl Meisler, “Snow Alone” April 1982

Photographing ruins is a genre that goes back to the earliest days of photography. When Meryl Meisler began teaching art in central Bushwick in 1981, the area was pretty much an urban wasteland, showing the scars of rioting after the 1977 blackout. Initially hesitant to carry a camera in the neighborhood, she took mental snapshots of what caught her eye as she walked to and from work. Soon, however, she began using an inexpensive camera and color slide film to “fix” those images and many of these transparencies were stored away for many years. Now, decades later, she has resurrected these chromes - editing, scanning, and printing images of a time and place ignored by the media of that period.

As expected, there are many pictures of derelict buildings and rubble-strewn vacant lots. In one a “last wall” stands in a desolate lot; in another, the oddly titled “Ode to Ansel Adams,” a giant tree trunk reclines like a beached whale in a sea of bricks.

But there are also images of the people who had little choice but to live and work in this landscape. Children play in the streets, teenagers strut and pose, old women wear black. Even though these people are shown in a depressed environment they are depicted as individuals, not exemplars of the disadvantaged. The photo of a minister and his young son, dressed in their Sunday best, against a background of ruined buildings stands out in this regard

 by Meryl Meisler. Source: sohophoto.com
Meryl Meisler, “Little Rascals: Homage to Helen Levitt” 1982

While on the surface one might get a feeling of continuity with the concerned street photography of the Photo League, I did not sense any of the political agenda that underlay the League’s work. Meisler’s engagement with Bushwick was longer term (she worked there until 1994) and the images on display range from 1982 to 1988. There appears to have been an internal compulsion to take these photos coupled with a personal connection to a number of her subjects, several of whom may have been her students or their family members. Why she chose to scan and print these images now I do not know. Bushwick is currently making a comeback with a resurgence of community activism and development. Meisler’s photos offer a look into a not-too-distant past when such revitalization was hard to envision. How, I wonder, will the influx of artists drawn to Bushwick by the low rents respond to their new neighborhood?

Meryl Meisler
Here I Am: Bushwick in the 1980’s


Soho Photo
15 White St.
Lower Manhattan - West         Map

212 226 8571
sohophoto.com

Wednesday, December 7 to
Saturday, December 31, 2011
Hours: Wed-Sun, 1 to 6
Share

The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino
Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat
Central Booking Magazine
Soho Photo Gallery