Discussing his 1970s photo-diary American Surfaces, Stephen Shore notes: “I started photographing everyone I met. Every meal. Every toilet. Every bed I slept in. The streets I walked on. The towns I visited. Then, when the trip was over, I just continued.” Shore’s project exudes a strong desire for “the local,” while at the same time depicting local people, local places, and local things in their fragile temporality.
Here at the Lab we’ve explored this lust for the local through a variety of programs. Similar to American Surfaces, the Lab’s workshops, talks, and films have emphasized, in one form or another, the precariousness of local encounters within an era of globalization and gentrification. The Lab has also offered concrete strategies that promote community engagement.
Inspired by spurse’s First Avenue walk, during which participants “cut across neighborhoods, ecosystems, and histories,” the two of us walked a three-mile stretch of Bedford Avenue (Brooklyn’s longest street), documenting our encounters and reflections along the way. Bedford contains multiple worlds. We started in Bedford-Stuyvesant, crossed into Williamsburg’s Hasidic district, then passed into the Puerto Rican and Dominican section of the neighborhood before entering Williamsburg’s northern part, known for its boutiques and restaurants.
This slideshow falls somewhere between American Surfaces and Japanese poet Bashō’s travel journals. At its basis is the dual recognition that human beings learn their worlds best by walking, and that the walker exposes herself or himself to ceaseless surprises, ranging from the tragic to the tender and including the banal—which is still surprising. We couldn’t have anticipated any of our encounters. Nor could we have imagined any of these blocks.
In fact, we didn’t even intend to take the Bedford walk on the day we took it. We’d planned to spend a “productive” Sunday afternoon indoors. Thankfully our neighbors’ loud party wrenched us from this plan and threw us into something more spontaneous, more memorable.