121st street between Lenox Avenue and Powell Blvd
As a project to develop during my residency at Harlem Studio Fellowship (HSF) in New York, I am trying to create a photographic portrayal of the block where I am living: 121st street between Lenox Avenue and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard.
Harlem is deeply and quickly changing: many old houses are being restored; new people are moving to this neighbourhood, some residents have to leave because the rent prices are increasing; new shops, bars, buildings, hotels and restaurants are opening, while some old, no more competitive ones are closing. Students from Columbia University, artists, young couples and freelances live and work nowadays in Harlem, sharing spaces and habits with the historical residents of this area. Last summer a lot of white people moved to Harlem and the gentrification is getting faster and faster.
The block where HSF is located reflects this interesting phase of transition, that’s why I decided to concentrate on this small but rich reality. Being an agent myself of this process I thought I could only work where I am part of it.
After creating a collage/map of the exteriors, which is a tool to situate the people I meet and the realities I come across to, I am now at the heart of the project: photographing the interiors of all the neighbors’ houses and shops on this block.
Going inside the buildings means to me exploring the private realities of their inhabitants, seeing beyond the external façade that won’t change so much between before and after the gentrification. In fact, the renovations of the buildings are more respectful outside than inside.
With no voyeurism and respecting people’s privacy and will, I want to document and bring to light the interesting contest existing at this time in our street: the different personalities, the contrasts, the links between various realities that coexist. The old brownstone houses look to me like some beautiful and quite homogeneous facades hiding the richness and characters of the different people living inside.
In order to realize such a purpose I am asking the neighbors of the block to invite me for a brief visit to their houses. I include in the project the school, the church and the few commercial activities. Once invited, I photograph some spots of their homes. Their participation to “on the block” is fundamental to me and their contribution is the whole project‘s heart.
Next March, I’ll be able to see on my collage/map how many doors remained closed and to locate the people I met. All the photographs, with no name but just the number of the street to indicate them, will create a patchwork of interiors details. Moreover, I am taking notes of all episodes, reactions and comments occurring in the process of taking pictures and asking to be invited. These writing will become a textual counterpart of the visual work.
USE OF THE PHOTOGRAPHS
A selection of the photographs was exhibited on the 20th September at the HSF during a private presentation for all the neighbors and friends. Next Spring, some photographs will be part of a bigger exhibition that will take place in Italy, including works by all the fellow residents invited at HSF this year.
A final edition of “on the block” with photographs and texts is the main intent.