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The love affair between street photographers and New York City is rich, lucid, sometimes sordid and, seemingly, unbreakable. Images shot on the fly on the streets of the Big Apple form a significant part of the canon of photographic history — think Helen Levitt’s photos of kids at play, Weegee’s crime scenes crowds, Bruce Davidson’s subway, Jill Freedman’s brilliantly observed moments, Louis Mendes’ fifty-years of street portraits, and Jamel Shabazz’s polychromatic pictures of hip-hop culture. Perhaps the patina of time leads us to romanticize these bygone eras? Perhaps the stand of time between us and the fashions, hairstyles, automobiles and shop-fronts of yesteryear makes looking just simple, uncomplicated fun? Either way, Carrie Boretz’s work is wonderful.

 

 

Between 1975 and 1994, Boretz traversed NYC. From Brooklyn to Midtown Manhattan, from Queens to the West Village, and from Harlem to Studio 54, Boretz sought out busy, public scenes that would turn viewers’ attention back toward the everyday wonder of everyday life.

Street: New York City — 70s, 80s, 90s is a book of 103 images from the New York boroughs. It’s an elegy to a time when the city was a bit rough and tumble.

“New York seems less interesting now and more sanitized,” says Boretz.

Carrie Boretz’s Street is published by PowerHouse Books.

Read and see more: These amazing street photos show 20 years of New York’s gritty glam era—through one woman’s eyes

 

 

       

 

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Thomas Roma‘s book In The Vale Of Cashmere is probably familiar to you. It has had enjoyed widespread press and positive comments. And rightly so. It’s one of my favourite books of the year. I just did a review of the book and project for Vantage.

Roma’s arresting photos go inside the Vale of Cashmere a renowned casual hook-up spot that has, for decades, hidden in plain sight on the northern side of New York’s prospect Park–an overgrown, knotty pocket of criss-crossing paths that is of Brooklyn’s most active gay cruising spots. The Vale of Cashmere is commonly, but not exclusively, frequented by African American and Caribbean men.

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Not only are Roma’s portraits–that take us on long and repeated walks through the foliage and dappled light–wonderful so too is the contributing essay by G. Winston James. Between the two of them we are able to encounter, pass or pause with the men who meet among those trees.

I write:

James reminds us that sex is an activity designated for private spaces, namely the domestic space of the home. But for gay men living in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, homosexual sex could not be expressed at home so it became a public act in public space. Crucially though, gay cruising and meeting spots only function as such at designated times.

“The most defining characteristic of queer space is its temporality. Queer space is not a permanent fixture of the urban landscape, but a sudden transformation that briefly renders traditional public spaces as something more dynamic,” Shaw once wrote.

James adds, “It is precisely this process of transformation (witnessed by a relative few), this dynamism, this history, that Thomas Roma has photographed.”

Read the full review: Loving Portraits Of Gay Black Men Cruising In Prospect Park

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I never realised powerhouse was so prolific.

In 2005, Powerhouse Books published Thomas Roma‘s book In Prison Air: The Cells of Holmesburg Prison.

Arguably, the introduction by John Szarkowski is more interesting – or at least more complex – than Roma’s images. Szarkowski tackles head on the common question that looms over photographic studies of prisons:

“Roma’s book is in fact an odd and possibly perverse work, designed for who knows what audience. There are probably a few aging sociologists, still completing their works on what prisoners write on their walls, to whom the book might be useful (although it might be faulted on the basis of a lack of systematic rigor), and there might be another small but dedicated segment of our population that is interested in thinking about what life in prison might be like – not in terms of dramatic narrative, as with Cagney, Bogart, Robinson, etc., but rather (I am tempted to say) in terms of the aesthetics of incarceration.”

“But that is only a quick, superficial and comfortably middle-class response; and on second thought it is surely wrong.”

“Perhaps it might be more useful to ask why a photographer of high talent and conspicuous achievement might decide to make a book of photographs looking into empty prison cells. This is the same photographer who gave us the great, free-spirited dogs of Brooklyn, and the great open pastures of Sicily; and it is not unreasonable to ask why a photographer dedicated (or half-dedicated) to the cause of freedom should make this extended, serious, hermetic effort to produce a book of photographs concerning the very essence of subjugation.”

Szarkwoski then meanders through speculations about the photographs as a warning – even preparation – for forthcoming and unknown (possibly increasing) uses of incarceration:

“We might therefore, to be on the safe side, consider whether their evidence might help us prepare us for our possible future.”

To hammer the point home, Szarkowski lists common human preoccupations:

“According to their wall drawings and other graffiti, it would seem that the principled interests of Roma’s inmates were God, sex, time and to a lesser degree, art, the last being perhaps merely a method of dealing with the first three. These issues have been historically important to men in and out of prison.”

Szarkowski flourishes the introduction with reference to Conrad and Kafka and ends on an unfinished train of thought about medical experimentation on humans. Relevant, but not finished.

All in all, it is a bizarre essay. Szarkowski seems to grapple with the fact he has no connection to the content nor anchor with which to investigate and make sense of Roma’s work. But maybe that is the point he’s [un]intentionally making about photographs of prisons and of places one’s never been?

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