October 16, 2017
How the other side lives.
From the Lower east side to the Upper east side. This past weekend I led a workshop through the Penumbra Foundation and was given an assignment by one of the photographers, Andrew Garn who told me that the assignment was given to him by Mary Ellen Mark. I was, to photograph the fabulous women of the Upper East side.
Long and short of my story is, one woman clutched her bag and briskly walked away, another put her life at risk by stepping out into the street to avoid me. Others curled up their nostrils in disgust and one literally ran down the street at break neck speed when I asked her for direction. I cannot begin to explain how this experience made me feel. “Cassandra” a young lady from the area told me that I was not asking the “right” women.
On the train ride home I recalled an episode on the radio where the discussion of slavery and the North was under scrutiny.
“Slaves were auctioned openly in the Market House of Philadelphia; in the shadow of Congregational churches in Rhode Island; in Boston taverns and warehouses; and weekly, sometimes daily, in Merchant's Coffee House of New York. John Hancock and Benjamin Franklin bought, sold, and owned black people. William Henry Seward, Lincoln's anti-slavery Secretary of State during the Civil War, born in 1801, grew up in Orange County, New York, in a slave-owning family and amid neighbors who owned slaves if they could afford them. The family of Abraham Lincoln himself, when he lived in Pennsylvania in colonial times, owned slaves.”
Now in no way am I implying that the folks on the Upper Eastside are descendants of slave owners, but we all forget that the North had a slave culture. It made me ask, what could it have been that generated so much contempt for my presence uptown. What I do know is, silence works on many axis. Ones silence could mean you don’t want to get involved and it could also mean the revealing of your true identity.
Nevertheless, it has sparked a challenge in me to head to the Upper Eastside and make images about this section of New York. These were my assignment images.
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