The Hess gas station where my grandmother used to walk 10 blocks out of her way to buy her two-for-one Marlborough cigarettes is now a bulldozed lot that will soon become luxury condominiums. The Catholic elementary school I attended from first to eighth grade that educated a variety of students from Hell’s Kitchen to the Bronx is now a $14,000 a year charter school. The elderly couple that used to sell me paperback books for ten cents in their knick-knack store they ran for decades near the neighborhood post office were recently kicked out of their building and given less than two weeks notice of their eviction because their landlord sold the three story building for a few million dollars. Everywhere I look when I walk down the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan, I see the erasure of my childhood. I feel the absence of the neighborhood’s vibrant and diverse residents. I see the loss of an entire culture that made the neighborhood notorious in New York City history.
Hell’s Kitchen originally earned its name from the appalling tenement living conditions endured by the neighborhood’s poor, immigrant residents. The numerous gangs, drugs, and prostitution problems that developed as a result of this poverty are what's most commonly associated with Hell's Kitchen. It must also be noted that many mom and pop owned businesses, artists, actors, scholars, activists, and numerous working class families helped to greatly shape the neighborhood. Despite all of their contributions to the community, the majority of Hell’s Kitchen residents and local business owners are being displaced due to rising rents and endless monetary greed from foreign property investors and long-term landlords.
My objectives for this work continued to shift as the project progressed. I first began this body of work thinking that I would find a clear solution as to how a neighborhood can balance both its old and new residents. I believed that one day, someone would look at this project and see how wrong it is that we value pieces of paper over the lives of people who helped to create a legacy that defined an entire community. I thought that I could find small scraps of my childhood within the neighborhood I grew up in and immortalize it forever within a photograph so I wouldn't have to face the realization that my childhood is very much over.
At this moment in time, I believe that this project depicts a community that will soon be lost to a sterilization known as gentrification.