‘Brooklyn Photographs Now’ Captures the People and Places of a Changing Borough

'Ava Playing in Open Fire Hydrant at Block Party, Brooklyn, NY' by Evan Sklar in 2014. Photo via Rizzoli

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    Marla Hamburg Kennedy isn’t new to Brooklyn. The photography curator and historian behind “Brooklyn Photographs Now,” a new book recently published by Rizzoli, looks back fondly on her days living in a loft at 25 Jay Street in Dumbo. “There were a lot of photographers,” she says of the neighborhood during that period. “It was amazing, really raw and dangerous.”

    Since then, she has moved to Manhattan. But, even from across the river, she continued to track the changes. In the meantime, there were other books (2005’s “Looking at Los Angeles,” co-edited with the actor Ben Stiller; “New York: A Photographer’s City” in 2011) and curatorial projects. Brooklyn was something she kept returning to as a subject.

    brooklyn photographs now

    Image via Rizzoli

    “I know the photographic history of Brooklyn, and had a book prepared for that for a long time,” she says. The focus was initially early 20th century artists like Weegee, who worked mostly in black-and-white. “But I realized I was more interested in doing something on the current moment.”

    Spanning the last decade, the book includes both established photographers — Joel Meyerowitz, Jamel Shabazz, Martin Parr — and less well-known street-snappers, capturing practically every corner of the borough: a farm alongside the elevated train in East New York growing okra and beets; the dramatic American Elms of Eastern Parkway; a dog racing through the flooded streets of Red Hook after Hurricane Irene; the Viola Pigeon Club in Coney Island; rich kids partying on a Williamsburg roof.

    brooklyn photographs now

    ‘Defonte’s’ by Guillaume Gaudet in 2011. Photo via Rizzoli

    brooklyn photographs now

    ‘Wonder Wheel, Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY’ by Franck Bohbot in 2013. Photo via Rizzoli

    “I was interested to see photographers who were doing work that was about the current time, and also reflecting photography tendencies and techniques,” she says. “So there are a very wide range of vantage points, literally and figuratively.”

    What Hamburg Kennedy says she didn’t want the book to be was a compendium of buildings, and what the book captures really well is the vibrant population in action. We get every walk of life in every state of being, from the jubilant crowds at Afropunk to the rituals of Purim. There are sunbathers laying on the sidewalk and others who hang out on their stoop. Guys play dominoes at a folding table and kids run through opened-up hydrants.

    brooklyn photographs now

    ‘Tomorrow’s Leaders, Bed Stuy, Brooklyn’ by Andre D. Wagner. Photo via Rizzoli

    More than anything, what the book is meant to convey is a collective feeling of where Brooklyn is at right now: constantly changing, always on the verge of something new without being able to escape its past. Most important, it’s a symbol that expands beyond the city limits.

    “Brooklyn is a brand,” Hamburg Kennedy replies when asked to describe the borough. “It’s not just a place. It’s far, far beyond that.”

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