|Smith Street, Brooklyn, 2004|
Brooklyn, drove a cab in the 1970s, worked as a carpenter, and with a camera in
hand, endlessly walked the working-class Italian neighborhoods he knew well,
like South Brooklyn and Sunset Park.
New York’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development from 1989 to 2011.
What he thought would be a temporary job led him into a 22-year career and
inspired him to photograph old abandoned spaces. He won a Guggenheim fellowship
for his work in 1997, but he didn’t quit his day job.
|Coney Island, 1990|
His large-scale color and black and white photographs, most of
which he has printed himself, are a permanent part of many of New York City’s
most cherished and important archives, from collections in the Museum of the
City of New York and the Brooklyn Museum, to the New York Public Library and
New York Historical Society. Racioppo’s haunting images of the city’s grand
churches and synagogues to its once exquisite theaters of the early 1900s are
both expressive and soulful, reconnecting us with the past and helping to
preserve New York’s history.
|Former Lowe’s Pitken Theatre, Brooklyn|
Racioppo’s images help document the city’s most changing neighborhoods,
such as those in central and East Harlem and the South Bronx, a neighborhood
known in the 1970s and 1980s by its frequently burned-out lots and entire
blocks blighted by arson. At the time, when building owners could no longer
afford repairs—or when squatters had taken over—the land was usually worth more
when the structures were razed by fire.
|211 West 148th Street, Harlem|
Between 1970 and 1987, the city had lost more than 330,000 housing
units in this way. Since then, the HPD has provided more than $8.7 billion to
support the repair, rehabilitation, and new construction of hundreds of
thousands of housing units, many of them for working-class New Yorkers.
artists including Ernest Hemmingway, Edward Hopper, and photographers Robert
Frank, Diane Arbus, and Harvey Wang, is just as passionate about the work and
it shows. There’s something impressive about the detail he’s captured with his
large format 8×10-inch view camera that’s just not possible to do with a 35mm, equipment that would for most be considered professional grade. But for Racioppo, it’s one that he uses
merely as his “sketchbook.”
really making that many photographs, I always kept my equipment. I always knew
I’d return to it. I always loved it,” he said.
Brooklyn were collected for the shows Brooklyn
Interiors and All This Useless Beauty,
two of his most popular to date. In it, he showed the public, often for the
first time, places such as the crumbling Bushwick Theater, Loew’s Kings
Theater, and the forgotten Coney Island Spookhouse. Seeing the images again makes him fondly recall the first
time he picked up a camera.
|Coney Island Spookhouse, Brooklyn, 1997|
“I was in California and a friend of mine lent me his camera,” he
said. “This was in 1970. Shortly after, I purchased a Nikon for $35. I had a
choice between two, and though I knew nothing about either, I held each in my
hands and the Nikon was much heavier, so I bought it. I only took one basic
photography course at the School of Visual Arts, but I stuck with it. Nothing
else was ever as much fun.”
|Larry Racioppo stands near 151st Street in The Bronx, looking at an old photo of his before the site was rebuilt.|
If you’d like to see more of the work of Larry Racioppo, visit his website.