For 17 years I enjoyed having an apartment on Elizabeth Street, in Manhattan, and photographing in the neighborhoods close by. Interested in patterns and the layering of imagery, I was drawn to photograph what I saw in the windows of the various shops that lined the downtown streets. I eventually found my way down to the lighting district, an area of the Bowery between Kenmare and Grand streets. There I recorded the dream-like imagery of hanging crystal lamps visible through the large glass panes. The glowing interiors of the lighting shops could be seen while looking through the reflected scenes of architecture and activity of the street. I continued to photograph on this stretch of the city for about the next ten years. The last images in this series were made in 2020. The glow of the shops was already beginning to dim as many were closing or moving due to the new status of the Bowery as a location for high end real estate.
My photographs are less documentation of the lighting shops than they are poetic observations of the montage of imagery that appears on the window glass separating the interior and exterior spaces of the storefronts. This work owes to the history of Atget, Abbott, Callahan, Friedlander, and the many others who have established the visual vocabulary of this genre, but it is also indebted to the layered and translucent collaged works of other visual artists, most significantly Robert Rauschenberg. The broad surfaces of the transparent glass panes are where the images materialize. On that sheer division of space, the arranged interiors and the cinematic movement of the lively exteriors blend and share a fleeting common order. The photographs record that “accidentally orchestrated” moment when all the visual elements merge in a complex blend of the multiple subject sources.
The rise in internet sales and the continuing robust real estate development of the lower east side of Manhattan ended the livelihood of the rows of sparkling lighting shops on the Bowery. I saw more shops relocating or closing with each visit I made. After the final blow of the Corona Virus pandemic, likely only a few shops, if any, will manage to survive. The luminous, dream-like quality of another of Manhattan’s unique neighborhoods seems destined to vanish for good.