Palmetto Street Days
I spent seven years of my life on Palmetto Street, in Bushwick (Brooklyn, New York), during which time the neighborhood transformed before my eyes, from a place nobody cared about to a place every young person wanted to be. Gentrification is an ugly process that does ugly things to beautiful people, those that continue to be overlooked by the systems that control them, deny them voice and categorize them unworthy of being seen. It is as I understand it, a two-prong systemic phenomenon: 1. economic gentrification, when working-class renters are priced out of their homes by opportunistic landlords and real estate developers, and 2. cultural gentrification, when the landscape of the neighborhood changes to suit the tastes of newer residents with more disposable income (organic grocery stores, bars, coffee shops) which also tend to have significantly higher prices than other local businesses, and do not hire local residents. Add to that mix, the burden of the struggling artist/student, who may have no other option but to rent in a working-class neighborhood, but whose mere presence signifies a shift towards "coolness" and "safety" i.e. a higher police presence. Add to that mix the racial component: where the urban working-class tend to be black, brown, immigrants or descended from immigrants, non-English-speaking, hip-hop/salsa/bachata loving; where political and municipal systems equate that with criminality, and the average white middle-class individual equates that with danger. The seeds of a turf war on different levels of the subliminal.
I could write pages about the concept of gentrification, but I am more interested in its visual reality as represented by the people it affects, and the way in which visible fixtures of the community are suddenly turned invisible. If gentrification is to walk by a person you see every day and never say hello, that is the quintessential act of dissolving a community. The idea of a neighborhood is based on knowing your neighbors, seeing the same people every day, greeting them, getting to know them as human beings. This was the basis of my photographic work, and what I found in return was the tenderest love from the toughest of communities. It is not one story, but thousands of interwoven threads.
The Bushwick that adopted me is the home I see in my dreams, and the years of photographs are my love letter to the place that nurtured me as one of its own, to the families that included me in their celebrations, triumphs and sorrows alike.