Invincible Cities: Harlem’s Painted Lady on East 125th Street

Invincible Cities: 65 East 125th St. (1977)

Invincible Cities: 65 East 125th St. (1977)

Invincible Cities: 65 East 125th St. (1990)

Invincible Cities: 65 East 125th St. (1998)

Invincible Cities: 65 East 125th St. (2001)

Invincible Cities: 65 East 125th St. (2007)

Invincible Cities: 65 East 125th St. (2009)

Invincible Cities: 65 East 125th St. (2009)

Invincible Cities: Harlem’s Painted Lady on East 125th Street

The ghetto poses urgent questions I feel compelled to respond to,
Not with solutions but with explanations and tangible records.
I am driven to publicize and preserve the memory of these environments.
–Camilo José Vergara

Camilo José Vergara has spent more than thirty years documenting poor, urban and minority neighborhoods across the United States. His projects emerge from a large archive of images he has made since 1977 of the nation’s largest ghettos. His exhaustive research has taken him to Camden and Newark, New Jersey; Chicago, Illinois; Detroit, Michigan; Gary, Indiana; Maine; New York; and Los Angeles. Vergara takes his camera to places plagued by the drug trade, and to neighborhoods filled with homeless shelters, prisons, and drug treatment facilities. He is a prolific photographer who continues to live in New York City. Vergara has been the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant.

Vergara describes his approach as interdisciplinary, using techniques from fields that include sociology, architecture, photography, urban planning, history and anthropology. He has focused upon the gradual erosion of urban neighborhoods by photographing the same structures repeatedly over decades in order to capture the process of of urban decay. The photography presented here is from Vergara’s project entitled Invincible Cities. He returned to the same intersection in Harlem and photographed the changes in one building for 38 years. The images create a composite, time-lapse portrait of one of New York City’s most vibrant and distinctive areas.

Camilo Vergara Documents the Changing Urban Landscape

Photo-Gallery: Invincible Cities: Harlem’s Painted Lady on East 125th Street

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The Harlem Album: A Century in Images

Josephine Baker at the Roxy, 1950

Diana Ross Backstage at the Apollo, 1965

Malcolm X at a Rally on Lenox Avenue, 1965

Mohammed Ali and Malcolm X, 1965

Cadillac and Racoon Coats in Harlem, 1932

A Woman with Hanging Overalls, 1978

The Harlem Album: A Century in Images

The Harlem Album: A Century in Images is a remarkable collection of photographs curated by Thelma Golden at the Studio Museum in Harlem.  Home to writers and revolutionaries, artists and musicians, Harlem has also long been a source of inspiration for countless photographers.  The selection of images provided here includes photography by James Van Der Zee, Gordon Parks, Dawoud Bey and Kenneth Nelson, with photographs that reveal a broad and beautiful new visual survey of the neighborhood.

The choices in this collection were all about offering a wide variety of ways of looking and seeing and thinking,” says Studio Museum Curator Golden.  Even when it comes to some of Harlem’s legendary icons, the variety of photographs is telling.  There are the pictures of Malcolm X addressing a crowd, but also intimate scenes in which Diana Ross and James Brown shed their public masks.  Joe Louis, surrounded by cheering locals, peers coolly at the camera.  And Langston Hughes stands, appropriately, on his own stoop, an architectural feature that serves as a “site of memory” in many Harlem photographs.  In a neighborhood that has symbolized so much, to people all around the world, the stoop was also a kind of threshold: between home and the larger world.

James Van Der Zee: Photographer of the Harlem Renaissance

Gordon Parks: Legendary Photographer, Filmmaker, Writer and Composer

Thelma Golden: How Art Gives Shape to Cultural Change

Slide Show: The Harlem Album/A Century in Images

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Yesteryear’s New York: The Belly of the Beast

Jill Freedman: Love Kills (1979)

Jill Freedman: Tiffany

During the 1970s and 80s, an adventurous blonde named Jill Freedman with a quick eye for the unusual and bizarre focussed her camera upon the spirited characters and gritty sidewalks of a now-bygone era in New York City life. This modernist documentarian was a self-taught photographer who captured raw, intimate images in black and white, transforming urban scenes into theatrical dramas.

Freedman’s portrait of New York reflected a fallen city that was strewn with piles of garbage. Prostitutes and bag ladies walked the streets, while junkies staked out abandoned tenements next to children playing in vacant lots. For reasons involving both a shift in photographic styles and her own declining personal circumstances, Ms. Freedman faded from the popular scene in the late 1980s. But today, at a moment when much of Manhattan is awash in money and glamour, Freedman’s photographic legacy offers us a vivid portrait of a metropolis once defined by violence, poverty and disarray, a New York that once was.

Jill Freedman’s New York: Poverty, Violence and Disarray

Read more about Jill Freedman’s photography in The New York Times here.

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