By Seth Kushner
The month of August almost feels like a month-long vacation to me, even when I’m working. In Italy, the people take the whole month off, but here in New York, our “checking-out” is more metaphorical. Freelance work is generally slow and folks seem to take a “lazy” approach to the lazy dog days days of summer.
This past year, I decided I would take the opportunity to spend the slow month of August to work on a project about the waning summer, but also my approach to doing it would represent my own feelings about the time.
I live in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and not far from my home is the 69th Street Pier, which juts out from the long cement promenade into the Verrazano Narrows, offering views of Lower Manhattan, Jersey City, Staten Island, the Statue of Liberty and the Verrazano Bridge. It’s a beautiful spot and a destination for Brooklynites from various walks of life.
My concept was to visit this pier regularly, get to know the men and women and families who utilize it, and document their experiences.
Aesthetically, I wanted to loosen my style and shoot less “formally” and take a more reportage approach. I decided I would go only at sunset, that magic time at the end of the day when everything is cast in a warm orange glow. I wanted my photos to have the quality of those old Kodachrome slides, with the deep and saturated colors we associate with a bygone era before digital.
A unique aspect of my process was in who came along as my companion/photo assistant–my three-year old son. As the freelancer in the family, I am solely responsibly for my son between the time he gets out of school (or camp, in the summer) and when my wife gets home several hours later. So, these sojourns to the pier became a father/son activity, like Lone Wolf and Cub. I learned very quickly that folks immediately trust a guy pushing a stroller, which cut down on the time it would normally have taken me to earn the acceptance of my potential subjects. By the third or fourth time, my son would refer to going to the pier as us “going to work.” By the fifth or sixth time, he insisted on getting out of his stroller and taking his own photos. With my iPhone in hand, he would approach strangers saying, “Excuse me, can I take you picture?” I deleted a bunch of kneecap photos before I taught him to point the camera up.
For my son and me, going out to the pier at the end of the day became our way of unwinding, as it seemed to be for our subjects. We’d see the same people all the time. The young Latino guy with the long hair, the older gentleman in the hat, the man on the bike, etc. They were regulars. Soon we were too.
I’ve never fished and I’ve never even spent much time watching people fish. The whole hook-in-the-mouth thing always seemed distasteful to me. But, I soon discovered fishing is a very pure thing for these people. They fish for food, not for sport. They have a relationship with the fish they catch, gutting it, cleaning it, and eating it. For most, it looked to be an almost zen-like experience. The wait, the tug, the catch, and sometimes the release. It’s a peaceful thing to do while the sun dips over the water and the sky turns from blue to red to black.
For me, these photos represent reflection and quiet and the end of the summer and an appreciation of nature in the city and maybe a new body of work.
Many more of Seth Kushner’s photos of Brooklyn can be seen in the 2007 book, The Brooklynites by Anthony LaSala and Seth Kushner.