By Seth Kushner
Brooklyn–A thriving mecca of 2 million people, which would be the fourth largest city in America, if it wasn’t designated simply a “borough.”
I’ve always said I grew up in the Sheepshead Bay, a middle-class, mostly white area of South Brooklyn, which is neither urban nor suburban, but something in-between. Our two-family attached home, with the front lawn, white picket fence and driveway was actually located in a nameless middle ground between Sheepshead Bay, Brighton Beach, Coney Island and Gravesend. Since the name “Sheepshead” conjured up images of fishing boats in the bay, we claimed it, and our zip code, 11235 backed-up our claim.
Everything I ever needed was located within half a mile; Village pizza, Moi Yen Chinese food, Carvel ice cream, Silver Star comics.
My elementary school was around the block and the Q train eight blocks away, but the ride to Manhattan, seemingly a million miles.
That was my Brooklyn.
My world grew larger when I began attending School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, or as we referred to it, “The City.” My new college friends lived in cool and gritty places like the East Village and Lower East Side. To them, Brooklyn, NY might have well have been Boise, Idaho.
I started to think of my home as “limited.” All the hip bars and restaurants were located in Manhattan, not in the borough where everyone seemed to have a “dees and dohs” accent.
But soon, Brooklyn became cool. Successful young couples began fleeing exorbitant Manhattan hi-rise rents for Park Slope brownstones and young hipster bands began calling Williamsburg theirs.
The borough that was once famously home to such prominent people as Arthur Miller, Barbara Streisand, Neil Diamond, and Norman Mailer, now claimed Spike Lee, The Beastie Boys, Steve Buscemi, Marisa Tomei and Jay Z. And, me.
I’ve long heard about the romantic notion of artists having a muse. Since I first became a photographer, Brooklyn has been my muse.
In 2004, I began a 3-year project. My high school friend, Anthony LaSala and I would document the borough of our birth. It would be a thesis in words and pictures on the Brooklyn we loved. In doing so, I not only reminded myself of why I loved this place, but I somehow managed to fall in love with it all over again. Putting something under a microscopic lens, as I did, made me reexamine the history of the people and the place, as well as my own history. I not only documented “my Brooklyn”, but all of Brooklyn, lying claim to the whole borough as I did. I found myself obsessively traversing all 88.8 square miles as I studied and documented every neighborhood; the shores of Seagate, the top of the Wonderwheel, the banks of Canarsie, Green-Wood Cemetery in the winter, Prospect park in the summer, the stoops of Bed-Sty, the arts of Ft. Greene, the pizza of Bensonhurst, the old people in furry hats on the Brighton Beach boardwalk, the Italian men playing Boccee Ball in Dyker Heights, the fishermen in Sheepshead Bay, Sunny’s Bar in Red Hook.
Brooklyn is home to such literary greats as Paul Auster, Jonathan Lethem and Jonathan Ames and with the release of The Brooklynites in 2007, I could count myself as one of Brooklyn’s authors.
I’ve traveled and fell in love with other places around the world, but I always come home to Brooklyn. The longest I’ve ever been away is three weeks. If I lived almost anywhere else, that would be a limiting statement. But I live in Brooklyn, the place I was born, the place where I have decided to settle and raise a family, and, although it’s sometimes difficult, the place I fall in love with every day.
The essay above was initially written as part of a words and pictures presentation at the Save Sunny’s Bar Benefit event. Most of the photos can be found in The Brooklynites, by Anthony LaSala and Seth Kushner, powerHouse Books, 2007.