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The Brooklyn Rail

MARCH 2021

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MARCH 2021 Issue
The Miraculous The Miraculous: New York

44. (Washington Market, Lower East Side)

After stints as the staff photographer for SNCC and riding with a midwest motorcycle club, a young photo-journalist finds himself back in his native New York City where he learns of plans to demolish some 60 blocks of historic buildings, many of them dating back to the Civil War and before. He sets out to photograph as many of the structures as possible before they vanish. For him, they are fossils of a lost era. The people who lived and worked in them may all be long dead, but the buildings themselves are still standing, at least for a little while. Racing against wrecking balls and demo crews, he captures paper warehouses and tanneries, printing houses and barrelmakers’ shops, hotels and hospitals, office buildings and produce warehouses, newspaper headquarters and flower markets, an entire civilization. He also photographs the men hired to tear them down: “Slavs, Italians, Negroes from the South, American workers of 1967 drinking pop-top soda on their beams, risking their lives for $5.50 an hour.” The entire project feels unbearably sad. During their last days, these hundreds of once valuable and thriving buildings are kept company only by bums and pigeons. With nothing left to feed on, even the rats and stray dogs have left. Hoping to “weave a kind of song of destruction” he assembles his images into a photobook that he bluntly titles The Destruction of Lower Manhattan.

(Danny Lyon)

Contributor

Raphael Rubinstein

Raphael Rubinstein is the author of The Miraculous (Paper Monument, 2014) and A Geniza (Granary Books, 2015). He is currently writing a book about the Jewish-Egyptian writer Edmond Jabès. A Professor of Critical Studies at the University of Houston School of Art, he divides his time between Houston and New York.

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The Brooklyn Rail

MARCH 2021

All Issues