02 June 2014
NEW YORK — The West 4th Street Subway Station is part of my daily commute to work. As I enter and exit the tunnel, there are long corridors that riders must pass through to get to and from the train platforms. These passageways are typically lined with advertising posters. But recently, artist Andres Serrano, has transformed the space into a moment of reflection and connection to the City’s homeless residents. Residents of New York, is a series of large-scale photographic portraits of 85 people who live on the street in Manhattan. The project combines social activism and public art by placing the images of the invisible where commuters and tourists can not avoid looking at them.
Serrano initially photographed homeless individuals in 1990 for a series titled Nomads. Over this past winter, using a 4 x 5 format camera, Residents of New York, was shot documentary style, recording people in their home environment, the streets and subway system. The images are printed life-size, on vinyl advertising style posters and hung at eye-level. In the majority of the portraits, the sitter looks directly into the camera. The impact is profound and moving, as Serrano captures and conveys the humanity and fragility of each individual. Serrano does not neglect to provide their names, insisting on, and recording the identity of each person.
According to the Coalition for the Homeless, more than 111,000 individuals in New York City experienced homelessness last year, and the rate of people seeking shelter has risen by 73% since Michael Bloomberg took the Mayor’s office in 2002. After a bitter and long winter, anyone paying attention could not ignore the rise in the amount of people sleeping on the trains and in the subway stations. Serrano does not shy away from the critique of our personal and collective responsibility for this ongoing crisis.
My one and only criticism of the project is the heavy handed branding by the project sponsor, More Art, whose eagerness to promote themselves was a little too obvious. Residents of New York is on display at various locations around Washington Square including the West 4th Street Subway Station, La Guardia Place, Judson Memorial Church, and a few public phone booths.
Images provided by Kirsten Nash, 2014.