An amazing thing happened the other day when I began doing research on Rivington Street. I was taking photos where the street begins at the Bowery, and I by chance turned onto Freeman’s Alley. I had been there a few times in the past and had old photos from there, so I considered just continuing down the street.
I’m standing there taking some photos and this guy approaches me and says “If you give me 25 cents I’ll let you take my picture.” I said “What?”. He said, “This alley used to be full of bums and they used to say, If you give me 25 cents I’ll let you take my picture.” I didn’t really know what to say, but I asked him if he lived around here. He said, “Yeah, I own this building right over here.” and he cheerfully led me over to the area where you could see the backside of his building.
Since he had owned the building since 1969, I got into a conversation with him about the history of that area. He told me about the Southern Italian immigrants that lived there at first, all of the artists squats surrounding the area, the Mission and Salvation army, then the crazy drug problems in the 80’s. Now he said it’s attracting more people with money and there are galleries cropping up all over the place. This has been a trend since the New Museum opened a few years ago.
This is the kind of conversation I need to have. He is a real New Yorker, and has a genuine interest in talking about the community and sharing his wealth of knowledge in the area. Thank you Charlie! This collage is a personal visualization of the conversation we had.