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Cool Photo Essays Of Brooklyn

Photo Essays

Maira Kalman and I have been shooting photographs together for years. Each of us has had a long career as an illustrator and writer. And for thirty years we have been photographing like mad. Each of us has amassed an archive of thousands of pictures: crazy signs, vernacular architecture, shacks by the road side, sofas on the street, food, street fashion, animal photos, and many other subjects.

When we first met we were amazed to discover we were seeing and shooting many of the same things. Over the last six years we’ve gone after the same photos time and again. We have an unspoken understanding when we see something terrific in the street: a shared look of recognition, a silent “will you shoot it or should I?” or sometimes a more outspoken “out of my way, I’m shooting that one!”

The photographs in our photo essays have been made by both of us. Yet, because of our shared aesthetic, they appear to be the work of one photographer. Our view of the world is neither sentimental nor cynical. We’re humorists and humanists. We photograph the banal and the sublime. We are not professional photographers. We are documentarians.

Here, in the spirit of curiosity, and just plain fun, are a few images from four of the essays.


Two Chairs (mostly)

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The chair: the beautiful, universal chair. We are amazed by the infinite variety of chairs in the world. Wherever we’ve traveled we’ve found two chairs waiting for two occupants. We decided we’d make a book called Two Chairs, but then we’d see one terrific chair somewhere, or three great chairs we couldn’t ignore, or ten chairs lined up in an amazing way. We couldn’t ignore them either. They’re in the book too. That’s why we call this essay Two Chairs (mostly).


Still Life

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We love mannequins. We love them covered in dust or with heads literally screwed on wrong. We love the strange longing in these faces. Some make us laugh and others touch our hearts. They are amazingly poignant. Collectively, these portraits open a window into another dimension. Are we looking at them or are they looking at us? Wherever they’re looking, or whatever they’re looking at, they share a kind of loopy humanity that we both respond to and that never fails to astonish those who see them.



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These photos will not be a bunch of styled magazine food pictures. They capture the whole variety of the food experience: from standing outside a trailer in Bayonne, NJ, eating Lasagna on paper plate, to a plate of caviar and blini photographed while eating in Davidov, the best restaurant in Russia; from a grease stained Chinatown tablecloth to an impossibly complex cake in the window of LeNotre in Paris, and from a “Waffle House” to a “Lot-A-Burger.”



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We’ve been shooting store windows and graphics for years. We photographed “Pappy’s, Poopsies,” and “Pitsy’s” in Texas, and “Funny Cry Happy” right here in New York City. Wherever we are, we are made completely, insanely, deliriously happy by “street reading.” Some signs reveal all – such as the sign on the Birmingham Radisson Hotel: “Welcome Fire and Brimstone Church.” Others are a bit more mysterious such as “Abstract Co.” in Marfa, Texas.

History nerds and Brooklynophiles, rejoice! The Brooklyn Historical Society, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Brooklyn Public Library have teamed up to put large chunks of their collections online. The result is Brooklyn Visual Heritage, which is pretty much what it sounds like: a website devoted to a visual history of the borough.

The site was developed through something called Project CHART (Cultural Heritage, Access, Research and Technology), a collaboration between the three Brooklyn institutions plus Pratt Institute’s School of Information and Library Science. It contains thousands of historic images, from street corner shots to beautiful period interiors, old postcards, pictures of the Brooklyn Dodgers, everyday life, crime scenes, housing projects, the waterfront, trade cards, and more, ranging from the late 19th century to the late 20th. You could easily get lost on this site for hours. (I did.)

The only drawbacks of the site are that most of the pictures are watermarked, as you’ll see below, and some, like the amazing Jamel Shabazz collection (which is where that top image comes from), are only available at very small sizes. Still, Brooklyn Visual Heritage is an amazing compendium of Brooklyn’s history. In honor of its launch, here are just a handful of the many photos I looked through and fell in love with.

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