Fifteen years ago I landed in New York as a new immigrant. I have been photographing the city ever since, using the landscape as a platform to question, discuss and understand my surroundings,
The iconic power of New York is so strong that we tend to forget what lies at its core. The “capital of the world” as it calls itself, had to confront two major crises over the past decade: first, recovering from 9/11 - or as Slavoj Zizek (1) puts it, the mega terror attack on the Twin Towers, experienced as a television spectacle. Secondly, adapting to the 2008 Wall Street crash and ensuing recession. Both events changed our perspective on a familiar urban landscape. Through my images I am striving to shed light on the tension between neglect and growth, between destruction and reconstruction, revealing the forces behind capitalist economy and the consequences it brings about.
As an outsider, I reveal a personal and somehow intimate view of a less-explored New York, while following its evolution. After struggling with the verticality of Manhattan not fitting my frame, and the lack of horizon line in my compositions, I discovered the edges of the city. Endless mapping and deciphering of New York fringes offer not only mental and visual quietness but most importantly, like any edges, they are a reflection on the center.
"All that is solid melts into air."(2) Destruction and reconstruction are the motivating force behind capitalist economy, which is the economic system at the core of the world's big cities. The metropolis, in which destruction and reconstruction are constantly discernible in the physical human environment, is the paradigm of modernity. Following Marx, Marshall Berman maintains that there is dialectic interplay between the unfolding modernization of the urban environment and the development of modernist art and thought. ”The innate dynamism of the modern economy, and of the culture that grows from this economy, annihilates everything that it creates - physical environments, social institutions, metaphysical ideas, artistic visions, moral values - in order to create more, to go on endlessly creating the world anew. This drive draws all modern men and women into its orbit, and forces us all to grapple with the question of what is essential, what is meaningful, what is real in the maelstrom in which we move and live."(3)
Intercultural encounters, destruction, reconstruction, angst, hope, illusions, precariousness, chaos, are all felt in the urban sphere with enormous force. City dwellers become lively and creative people capable of inspiring change, yet we pay a heavy toll. Constant change also leads to destruction and loss of entire communities with their particular identities, bring in turn alienation, suffering, and anxiety.
Starting from the margins of the city, I journeyed inward to an unfamiliar and sometimes ominous New York, noticing how the periphery echoes the center. Transient and unnoticed landscapes exist along fraying borders where the physical presence of the urban structure begins to break down and rejoin nature. In these ex-centric spaces, where the quiet resounds with power, one can see the horizon, some kind of undeveloped land, raw surfaces, soil... Such contemporary “flanerie”(4) brought me to enigmatic encounters that reveal the city’s unconscious, like the see-through layers of the landscape reflect the sociological strata of the place.
In the process of creating this observer’s diary, with my own historical, analytical and poetic perspectives, I also found out how it reflected on my own story of adjusting to the city. Confronting, as Baudrillard calls it, the living utopia: “It is a world completely rotten with wealth, power, senility, indifference, Puritanism and mental hygiene, poverty and waste, technological futility and aimless violence, and yet I cannot help but feel it has about it something of the dawning of the universe. Perhaps because the entire world continues to dream of New York, even as New York dominates and exploits it.” (5)
1. Slavoj Zizek Welcome to the desert of the real. (London and New York,Verso 2002)
2 and 3. Marshall Berman All that is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity (London and New York: Verso, 1983).
4. Walter Benjamin The Arcades Project (1927–40) edited by Rolf Tiedemann (Harvard University Press, 1999)
5. Jean Baudrillard America (Verso 1986)