About photobooks – old and new.
Author: Daniel Shea
Title: 43-35 10th Street
Published by Kodoji Press in 2018
Softcover, 4to, 288 pages
In order to perpetuate a modern identity and a privileged position at global level, New York City has to constantly reinvent itself, respond to new urban and architectural needs. This also implies expanding construction, either horizontally or vertically, transforming old industrial and unsafe neighborhoods into trendy areas. Developers, real estate investors, and families who are better-off benefit from this transformation process, even though the new and trendy are not always synonymous with improvement. The gentrification process also often implies the displacement of local and longtime residents and businesses, as the new becomes unaffordable.
Daniel Shea’s book reflects on this urban transformation process, in the specific case of Long Island City. This neighborhood could be considered one of the most recent and spectacular urban transformations in New York City. An old industrial area close to the river with views over Manhattan, had the obvious potential to become an alternative to the overcrowded city center.
Even though the title of this photobook refers to one specific building, Daniel Shea documents and questions Long Island City’s transformation process through different angles, offering different readings and interpretations. There is clearly a question about who are the true beneficiaries of this change. A new housing sector with massive construction sites generates new employment opportunities, but also labour tensions between employers, workers, and unions. Daniel has introduced in this photobook several pictures of Scabby the Rat, an evidence of union’s protest and labour disputes on construction sites.
There are a number of pictures of passersby, probably new residents and professionals in office attire – the new white-collar class who may be replacing the blue-collar workers from the disaffected industries. The impact of the transformation process is also put into question with pictures of raw landscapes, on which geometric sketches are superimposed, alluding to the human conquest of the natural landscape. Similarly, birds and leaves, elements of the natural environment are juxtaposed with pictures of walls, cement, and other construction details.
The tension between the natural and the humanly transformed landscape also comes to my mind with a few pictures of Brasilia, included by Daniel in this book. This is a city edified in the middle of nowhere, built completely from scratch by Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer in the 1960. A modernist city, influenced by the architectural ideals of Le Corbusier, which prioritized rationality and functionality, disregarding any kind of natural order and spontaneous social appropriation of the urban space.
Despite being a World Heritage site selected by UNESCO, Brasilia is far from an urban success, where street life is practically inexistent in grand part of the city, without the “ballet of the sidewalk” to paraphrase Jane Jacobs. This is also another point raised by Daniel Shea, the tension between the architectural project, beautiful on paper, and the social life that it will generate.
Finally, the process of creation and transformation, inherent to the construction of a new building, a new urban area, or any artistic output, is also alluded to in this series of photos. There is a sense of progression in these construction sites, as different elements photographed separately, progressively come together to become a building and ultimately a new neighborhood. A similar creative process could be identified in Daniel’s book itself. Photos of different subjects are juxtaposed, whose relationship and meaning become possible to grasp as the reader progresses in his reading.
Daniel Shea – a New York based artist, who won the Foam Paul Huff Award for young photographers with the series 43-35 10thstreet.