longtime Seaport photographer/resident losing her Brooklyn Bridge views

doesn’t scream about it

There is a great deal to like about the New York Times CityRoom blog post this week about a longtime South Street area resident (Barbara Mensch) who is losing views that have been her muse, and a lot to like about the photographer and her work. There is so much to like that I spent some time on the intertubes clicking about the artist, and will do more; and will check out the writer (David W. Dunlap’s) other Building Blocks posts.

First off, I was taken by the groundedness and, yes, humility expressed by writer and photographer, with my emphasis added:

a new apartment building at 254 Front Street is just high enough and wide enough to blot out the Brooklyn anchorage and part of the Brooklyn skyline. Josh Barbanel has reported in The Wall Street Journal that the penthouse apartment obscuring her view is listed to rent for $20,000 a month. This is the Manhattan real estate market in play. It is an event, not a tragedy; a small event at that. But it is a moment worth noting. Something important has been diminished.

I feel very grateful that I had all these years here to nurture my work, because it was presented to me on a platter,” Ms. Mensch said on the rooftop the other day. A visitor could not help but notice that she was using the past tense.

In broad strokes, through my narrow focus, this is a quintessential Manhattan loft story:

  • young woman needs place for inexpensive art + life, moves from Soho to a nearby but very remote area
  • maturing artist embeds in the local life around her to an unusual degree, producing compelling art
  • (time passes)
  • local area changes dramatically as the dominant industry (noxious to many potential residents with more choices) moves away
  • new development nearby includes a $20,000/mo rental (and cuts out much of her view)

A fascinating story, well told, or outlined.

I learned some more on those intertubes. I can’t tell when this interview of Ms. Mensch was done, except that it was apparently in connection with her book, “South Street”, published in 2007. The question that spurred this answer could, instead, have been “why do visual artists in Manhattan locate to lofts in unfashionable neighborhoods?”

Q: When did you first come to South Street?

Barbara Mensch: In 1979. I knew that the downtown area below the Brooklyn Bridge would be affordable. Back then, the waterfront was still remote and out of the way. This neighborhood was SO AMAZING! The quality of light that came from living in a place so close to the river, where there were no skyscrapers to block the sun, was unique. It was a challenge to walk around the neighborhood and capture on film those dramatic shadows on the cobblestone streets or the way the light gently fell on the peeling storefront facades. Also, I was very inspired by living so close to the Brooklyn Bridge. To this day, I never get bored taking pictures of this remarkable structure. But most of all, I was very moved by meeting all these weird neighborhood characters.

(Except, for some, that last sentence.)

These notes to an exhibition of South Street photos “credits” Soho rents with her move to South Street:

I was a young women, all alone, in my early 30’s when I entered this world. I’d moved into the district after getting driven out of Soho by loft rent increases.

Her website has stunning images. A gallery of some her work; another gallery. The New York Times did a short profile with some Brooklyn Bridge images on January 9, 2009.

Finally, based on a comment she made on another blog, I “may want to also mention that you can purchase [her] images through the Bonni Benrubi Gallery, 41 East 57th Street”. Consider it done, and thank YOU, Ms. Mensch. (And Mr. Dunlap.)

© Sandy Mattingly 2012

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