Harlem: Photographs of Camilo José Vergara, 1970–2009

April 30, 2009
July 12, 2009

Spanning nearly four decades of physical and social transformation in a neighborhood that is fabled around the world, the exhibition Harlem 19702009: Photographs by Camilo José Vergara will be on view at the New-York Historical Society from April 30 through July 12, 2009.

Known for his long-term documentation of urban landscapes, for which he has been the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant," Camilo José Vergara has been returning to the same intersections in Harlem and photographing the changing buildings for 38 years. Harlem 19702009 presents 100 of these images, which together create a composite, time-lapse portrait of one of New York City's most vibrant and distinctive areas.

"This urban documentation project breaks with the ways historians, planners and other scholars traditionally approach urban space," Vergara states. "My method of documentation is based on presenting sequences and networks of images to tell how Harlem evolved and what it gained and lost in the process. The premise behind all the work that I do is that 100 pictures are one hundred times more powerful than one picture. The more you track something, the deeper and more eloquently it speaks."

"Photographs of buildings show how a physical setting can tell the story of the people who live in it. When an area is in such transition as Harlem has been in the end of the twentieth century, having these images also helps us maintain an urban memory that becomes essential to the history of the city," states said Marilyn Kushner, New-York Historical Society Curator and Head, Department of Prints, Photographs and Architectural Collections. "In Harlem 1970–2009: Photographs by Camilo José Vergara, we see a comprehensive and permanent record of the visual effect of decades of change in one neighborhood."

Based on photos from the Invincible Cities Web site (http://invinciblecities.camden.rutgers.edu/intro.html), exhibition highlights include a sequence of eight photographs taken between 1977 and 2007 outside of 65 East 125th Street, showing the successive lives of the building: as a local nightclub, a discount variety store, a smoke shop, a clothing boutique, a Sleepy's bedding outlet, and (most recently), a vacant storefront with a "for rent" sign posted on the building.

Harlem 19702009: Photographs by Camilo José Vergara is made possible with grant funds from The New York Community Trust.

Creative: Tronvig Group