People Like You
A photo essay on Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn
Caught underneath the florescent lights I stood there, unsure of whether I could stand much longer, incapacitated. His mouth and arms were moving with alacrity, his legs pacing quickly around the small barbershop on the corner of Marcus Garvey and Jefferson Avenues. “People like you” he kept saying over and over, each time, it seemed with more vengeance. He refused to give me his name, let alone his picture, but it was this man’s voracious reaction to my question that drove me to continue the project I explain below.
Thomas and Louis and Lawrence
As a white, upper-middle class woman living in predominately black, working class Bedford-Stuveysant in Brooklyn, I was self-conscious and acutely aware of my presence. This inescapable cognizance lead to an interest in how my identifiers implicated the relationship between me, the photographer, and my subjects, in this case, the residents of Bedford-Stuveysant. “What is your opinion on gentrification? And how have you been affected?” I would ask. As a gentrifier myself, this question was provocative and invigorating.
Jamal and Mable.
Bedford-Stuyvesant, BedStuy for short, located in north central Brooklyn, has for many decades been home to a majority black population. However, not unlike its surrounding neighborhoods, BedStuy has undergone significant socioeconomic and ethnic changes. While gentrification,“the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents,” may not according to its definition in and of itself be a human rights violation, the implications of it most certainly involve human rights abuses; the right to own property, to name one. With an influx of higher-income individuals, who are not so incidentally also often white, long-time residents are finding that they can no longer afford their homes, and by way of that, their identity. For most of those whom I interviewed, their block is their identity. ‘BedStuy do or die,’ I was told countless times, almost always followed by, ‘but this is not BedStuy anymore,’ which is not incorrect—efforts are being made to rename BedStuy to Stuyvesant Heights.
Ronald and Jared.
Before photographing I asked each subject to position themselves in way they were most comfortable to give each one ownership of the photo being taken, and in a grander sense, the portrayal of the issue of gentrification. I made a conscious effort to capture people in front of their homes—homes which many of them live in fear of losing—to provide a sense of agency and control, in a world otherwise controlled by wealth and color.
The winners of history write it. With this project I hope to give a platform for the losing side to record their own history.
Devon and Eric.