Young Photographer Captures the Soul of Her Changing Neighborhood Through Portraits

Stoney, Thai-Mauy fighter. He is a young lion with a huge heart. Everyone knows him.

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    Can the heart of a neighborhood be captured through photography? A young photographer has tried to do just that by photographing residents of Prospect Lefferts Gardens. 

    Originally a small-town girl from Maine, Courtney Mooney became enraptured by the neighborhood after moving there when she finished school. So she started photographing the people she met there.

    Prospect Lefferts Gardens Photos

    Photographer Courtney Mooney. Photo via artist’s website

    The Souls of Lefferts is her first solo show and features hand-printed black-and-white images.

    It opened Sunday, January 30, in collaboration with PLG Arts, a community arts group, and Deffo Media, a Brooklyn based company that works to promote young creatives, at the neighborhood’s local cafe Tugboat.

    Above and below are some of her photos, with captions in Mooney’s own words. Brownstoner got the opportunity to talk to Mooney about her life, inspiration, and relationship with the neighborhood:

    souls-of-lefferts

    I am trying to find this man. I have heard he runs often in Prospect Park. He is a retired radio host. I lost his phone number. In his hand is an apple.

    Brownstoner: What inspired you to start this project?

    This neighborhood will not be the same in five years. The same people will not be here. There will be a loss of something beautiful and although I seek to connect to what exists today, I am part of this loss.

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    This man was on his way to work. I asked to take his photograph. He said “you have one shot.”

    Brownstoner: Tell us a little bit about the people you photographed.

    There are the community activists, who understand something needs to be built and created. These people value community; I have photographed many of them. Then there are those who share this space, who are a part of PLG’s long-standing identity and traditions that make Brooklyn beautiful.

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    My spiritual friend and neighbor on her last sweep.

    Brownstoner: Are you from Brooklyn?

    Courtney Mooney: I grew up in rural white Maine. My dad is Native American and quite dark, but my childhood was void of any Native American traditions. Foreign culture has been something I always craved.

    souls-of-lefferts

    This man has worked in the local carpet supply store for 40 years. The store was the old PLG bowling alley. When I took this photograph, he said, “I know everyone in this community, black, white, don’t matter, I know every single one.”

    How did you end up in Prospect Lefferts Gardens?

    It was love that brought me here.

    When I first moved here, I felt out of place, more I felt we were imposing. Which we are. But PLG was far cheaper than anywhere else, and more beautiful than places like Williamsburg.

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    Wholesome men. These men run the neighborhood grocery. They also run the neighborhood. They know most of their customers by name.

    Brownstoner: What’s your end goal for the project?

    My end goal for the project is to be able to give salutation and preservation to this space as it is, for the people here.

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    This man has lived in the neighborhood for over 45 years. He knows everyone, he is the shoe guru. Now that I have taken this photograph he waves to me when I pass on my way home.

    Brownstoner: What’s next?

    I plan to conduct similar projects. Perhaps, I will become connected to another Brooklyn neighborhood in the way I am here.

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    Dorothy Burnham, longtime PLG member, civil rights activist, and artist. She is 100 years old. In her hand is her own art. Dorothy is currently struggling with an injury from a fall during the snow storm.

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    When I took this photograph it was raining quite heavily. The mother of these three was refused by NYC bus transit because her stroller was too big and would not fold. She begged to sit in handicap, but the man refused to let her on. She walked home in the rain.

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    Seth knows everything about PLG. He has done an incredible amount of community activist work for PLG and Prospect Park. He was immediately one of my biggest supporters. This was him cleaning Prospect Park, he does this every day when the weather allows.

    [Photos and captions by Courtney Mooney, except as noted above]

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