I'm curious about Trees and Concrete, which shows us these green places within Brooklyn. Is there a misconception that even built up cities are inhospitable to nature? Do we underestimate the capacity for spaces to be surprising and beautiful? Maybe we underestimate the environment to be resilient and overcome us?
Characteristically, due to how urban cities such as Brooklyn were designed from inception, to me the contemporary lack of native and natural greenery ultimately contributes to this perception of cities being inhospitable to nature. The constant development and expansion upon these lands starting from European colonialism well into the last century has only further depleted the area’s natural environments. Many don’t realize that places like Brooklyn were formerly inhabited by native tribes, specifically the Munsee Lenape and Canarsie tribes. We don’t think of a place like Brooklyn being a significant agricultural hub with substantial farmland, but suburbanization and urbanization forces all of these transformations.
It is only through the few protected parks and green movements in recent years that we are now seeing some of that make a return, but it is predominantly the result of local organizations and non-for-profits pressuring legislation. Remanence of the past exists, but surely becomes harder to find. We are witnessing the climate impacts proving the inevitable return and resiliency of the natural environment. This is happening on a global scale and an instance of familiarity to Brooklyn as the increase in both the numbers and strength of hurricanes continue to physically alter the land, in particular, coastal areas of the city. For places like Brooklyn this becomes dangerous as so many neighborhoods were actually built on landfill. Perhaps this is why I’ve always been drawn to the southern coastal neighborhoods of Brooklyn, where I am from. The closer you go to the bay and ocean, the further away you get from the more obvious development. The outer reaches of the city have always been an escape for me and in that way, a reminder that it still can be surprising and beautiful far beyond the concrete and vertical development. The wilderness of Brooklyn finds a way to resume.
Many of those photos have almost pastoral landscapes that are overseen by built environments. When I'm looking at the images I feel a bit disjointed, what we build seems so ugly. Does this juxtaposition jar with you internally or was your reaction quite different?
Growing up in Brooklyn, the coexistence of trees intertwined with the man-altered landscape was normal and all I knew– it was home. Sometimes there were highways, developments, buildings, empty plots of land, massive water treatment plants, other times there were beaches, smaller parks, and marshes — it’s just how it was. Only when pursuing my undergraduate and graduate degrees in the southern U.S., followed by travels across the midwest and western U.S. where the landscape becomes much more open, I began focusing more on the environment. It was this constant leaving and returning that influenced my evolving perceptions of the landscape, including my former home. This progressed over a number of years. The landscape across the U.S. is vast and diverse, so the fragmentation of the Brooklyn landscape revealed itself only after these experiences.
I wonder a bit about how photographs can help people think about their home, or a place in a new way, do you feel that the photographs you made in Brooklyn open up new ways for people to consider or think about that place? Is that important, do you think?
There’s one photograph in particular I made while in Brooklyn that had this exact effect on my mother (who was born and raised there). She wanted to come along with me one of the days I was out photographing. A couple of months later, I shared with her one of the photos and she asked if it was an image I made while in the Midwest — I couldn’t help but to laugh because she didn't recognize the environment. She’s also never been to the Midwest, so her perception of that region is created solely through portrayals of media and films. This experience is common for many people, including myself. Photography has the potential to let us bear witness, to see and interpret the world differently and through those images made, create opportunity for reflection, consideration and ability to reconstruct how we perceive anything and everything. At times, this can be counter to everything we think we know. This could even happen in ones’ metaphorical backyard as evidence with my mother engaging specifically with my Brooklyn-based work. I think that potential is pretty powerful and important in many ways.