While student teaching on Avenue D in Manhattan's Lower East Side around 2010, I noticed the ubiquitous independent corner delis where I’d procure my morning coffee each day seemed to be shuttering at a pace more rapid than any neighborhood shift I'd observed before in my (at the time) 7 year residence* in The City That Never Sleeps.
I decided to document the vanishing bodegas in order to preserve these modest, omnipresent-yet-invisible NYC icons before the next inevitable wave of rent hikes and corporate homogenization erased them from the streetscape. In 2013, after almost 4 years of planning and delays, I took a subway to the last stop at the top of Manhattan, and, armed with camera and street map, began walking south in a grid pattern, photographing each bodega I encountered in the 9 months I spent canvassing the entire island.
I take much inspiration from the artistic rigor of conceptual photographers like Ed Ruscha ("Twentysix Gasoline Stations," 1963) and Bernd and Hilla Becher ("Industrial Facades," 1995) in depicting seemingly mundane human-made structures with a minimum of actual human presence. I’m interested in examining and decoding the common visual language used in convenience store decoration and advertisement display. I believe this language explains the narrative of the neighborhood that particular bodega serves – who lives there, what language they speak, what items they purchase at 2 in the morning.
At this time (2017), I understand around 30% of the businesses I photographed no longer exist. Manhattan is in a perpetual state of change and reinvention, and this project depicts a fleeting moment in its history.
Limited edition prints from the series are available in the store.
*I lived in WIlliamsburg, Brooklyn for about 8 years, and observed the rapid transformation of a neighborhood.