Saturday, December 02, 2006

you must take the A-train

Copyright (c) 2006 Aric Mayer

The Renaissance.
The A train.
Langston Hughes.
Richard Wright.
Bill Clinton.
Al Sharpton.
Zora Neal Hurston.
Amateur Night at the Apollo.
Art Kane’s tremendous portrait of Jazz greats.

As a white kid from out west this is all I know of Harlem -- and for years now it's been enough to make me want to know the place better and walk the neighborhood and look for the history that lives there now.

I've spent some time in NYC. Since moving to Chicago I’ve visited more frequently, and I even lived there for a little while as a kid, but my feet have never taken me to Harlem, and all I know is what I learned from reading, from watching, from listening.

I could explain that as just not yet having had the time -- and expecting that soon, I'll take the quickest way to Harlem, go to Sugar Hill way up in Harlem, and see what I can see.

But I’m a white girl, and white girls in America don't just go to Harlem like they go the East Village or the Upper East Side. Like they go to Central Park or Soho. Or Brooklyn. We just don't. It’s farther from me than Bangkok – but of course, I’ve been to Bangkok.

It’s Harlem that’s a different world.

And of course there's something wrong with that.

Aric Mayer, a Kenyan born Brooklyn based photographer who I’ve written about here before, was commissioned over the summer to photograph Harlem by The Studio Museum Harlem in the borough. The collection is called HRLM: Places. Seventeen of these images can be seen in the upcoming fall issue of the museum's journal, STUDIO – a smaller subset can be seen online now at Aric’s Digital Railroad site.

In this smaller selection the human landscape of Mayer’s Harlem is largely un-peopled – but the impress of the folks who have shaped this place today, yesterday, and years before yesterday -- is hugely present in the monumentality of the place.

The frames progress at the street level, and it’s almost like I’m there, walking the walk I haven’t yet walked, taking in the art, the spirit, the decay. His images make me hungrier than my nameless fear, to see more, to understand better why I’ve never been, and to travel in the direction of that fear – because it’s doing exactly that, that is the only thing that has ever gotten me anywhere.

Take the A train »


Anali said...

I hope that you go to Harlem, because it seems like you are really interested. I haven't been to NY in many years, before 9/11.

I've never really hung out in Harlem myself, but I think I went to a restaurant there and had a great meal.

I'm sure you'll have a good time and probably won't be as out of place as you think.

Sara said...

Paul Theroux once wrote something about distances being imaginary - for instance that for the white middle class peoples who inhabit NYC, London, etc, big cities across the world are more familiar and thus much closer to them, than say for instance Harlem or the suburbs of Paris. In fact, these dangerous places are almost categorised in our minds like war zones, the equivalents of Afghanistan or Congo.

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