Synopses & Reviews
For more than a century, Harlem has been the epicenter of black America, the celebrated heart of African American life and culture—but it has also been a byword for the problems that have long plagued inner-city neighborhoods: poverty, crime, violence, disinvestment, and decay.
Photographer Camilo José Vergara has been chronicling the neighborhood for forty-three years, and Harlem: The Unmaking of a Ghetto is an unprecedented record of urban change. Vergara began his documentation of Harlem in the tradition of such masters as Helen Levitt and Aaron Siskind, and he later turned his focus on the neighborhood’s urban fabric, both the buildings that compose it and the life and culture embedded in them. By repeatedly returning to the same locations over the course of decades, Vergara is able to show us a community that is constantly changing—some areas declining, as longtime businesses give way to empty storefronts, graffiti, and garbage, while other areas gentrify, with corporate chain stores coming in to compete with the mom-and-pops. He also captures the ever-present street life of this densely populated neighborhood, from stoop gatherings to graffiti murals memorializing dead rappers to impersonators honoring Michael Jackson in front of the Apollo, as well as the growth of tourism and racial integration.
Woven throughout the images is Vergara’s own account of his project and his experience of living and working in Harlem. Taken together, his unforgettable words and images tell the story of how Harlem and its residents navigated the segregation, dereliction and slow recovery of the closing years of the twentieth century and the boom and racial integration of the twenty-first century. A deeply personal investigation, Harlem will take its place with the best portrayals of urban life.
"Camilo Jose Vergara has watched—and photographed—Harlem as it fell apart and then rose back up as something else. He chronicles the passage from poverty to selective luxury, from segregation to selective integration, from street life to tourism. He asks the unanswerable question: Which is preferable?"
"Wandering the streets of Harlem for the past forty years, Camilo Vergara has noticed and miraculously recorded those moments of great human invention that have been largely overlooked by the official chronicles of architecture and urban history. For this reason, his photographs are unique and indispensable."
"Since the 1970s Camilo Jose Vergaras photographs have defined the American urban crisis, and the urban recovery insofar as that has occurred. His images have given rise to a whole international school of urban photography (even if his direct influence is not always acknowledged). He is the Lewis Hine of our time. Vergara has also marched to a different drummer, standing apart both from academic and art-world fashion, and from the celebration of 'the community' over the hard truths of the inner city."
"Despite the singularity implied by the book's title, Camilo Vergara shows us many Harlems, all of them in motion. His still photographs paradoxically enable us to see change by revealing the lingerings and premonitions of an evolving city. He points his camera forward (and backward) in time, not just in space. The result is a fascinating four-decade compendium of visual narratives, reflexively and reflectively assembled by someone acutely aware of his own semi-tolerated presence."
W. E. B. Du Bois has described the African American at the end of the nineteenth century as andldquo;two souls in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.andrdquo; In the United States today, the hyphen between these two soulsandmdash;African and American, African-Americanandmdash;is still being negotiated.and#160;In Harlem
, Spivak engages with thirty-four photographs by photographer Alice Attie as she attempts teleopoiesis
, a reaching toward the distant other through the empathetic power of the imagination. In the hands of Spivak, teleopoiesis
is a kind of identity politics in which one disrupts identity as a result of migration or exile. For the last two decades, Spivak notes, Harlem has been the focus of major economic development. As the old Harlem disappears into a present that simultaneously demands and rejects a cultural essence, Spivak dwells in Attieandrsquo;s images, trying to navigate some middle ground between the rock of social history and the hard place of a seamless culture.
and#160;andldquo;Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak has probably done more long-term political good in pioneering feminist and postcolonial studies within global academia than almost any of her theoretical colleagues.andrdquo;andmdash;Terry Eagletonand#160;andldquo;Not only does her world-renowned scholarship range widely from critiques of post-colonial discourse to feminism, Marxism, and globalization; her lifelong search for fresh insights and understanding has transcended the traditional boundaries of discipline while retaining the fire for new knowledge that is the hallmark of a great intellect.andrdquo;andmdash;Lee Bollinger,and#160;Columbia University
About the Author
Timothy J. Gilfoyle is professor of history at Loyola University Chicago where he teaches American urban and social history. His research has focused on the development and evolution of 19th-century urban underworld subcultures and informal economies. He is the author of A Pickpocket's Tale: The Underworld of Nineteenth-Century New York; City of Eros: New York City, Prostitution, and the Commercialization of Sex, 1790-1920; The Urban Underworld in Late Nineteenth-Century New York: The Autobiography of George Appo; and co-author of The Flash Press: Sporting Men's Weeklies in the 1840s. Gilfoyles interest in urban planning and public space is reflected in Millennium Park: Creating a Chicago Landmark.
Table of Contents
FOREWORDBy Timothy Gilfoyle
Street Photography of Harlem, Early 1970sSince 1977, Exploring Harlem through Time-Lapse Photography
THE URBAN FABRIC
Many Harlems, One Cultural Capital of Black AmericaLost HarlemGlobalization Takes Over: From Sugar Club to Global ChurchRuins and Semi-RuinsLandmark Harlem and Harlem LandmarksMemorialization“Simply Magnificent”: The New Apartment Buildings of HarlemThe Projects: Unlikely Bastions Preserving TraditionsThe SubwayDefenses
Harlem Walls: Graffiti, Memorials, Murals, and AdvertisementsReligionParades, Celebrations, and Commemorations“We Put Our Own Spin on Style”: Harlem FashionsThe African Presence in HarlemTourists in Search of Harlem’s HeydayA Defiant AttitudeLexington Avenue at East 125th Street: A Happening IntersectionFree FoodWhat Mean These Stones?
In Harlem Wandering from Street to Street