Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Friday, April 24, 2009
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Signs of Bygone Times
The new book, Store Front, is a fascinating, valuable artifact: Photographers James and Karla Murray documented the façades of hundreds of old-fashioned stores and restaurants, the kinds of places that New Yorkers of a certain age see in their minds when they think of the city (and less and less in real life). On the cover, as you can see, is Ralph’s—the discount emporium on Chambers Street that was torn down in 2007—so we were a little disappointed not to more Tribeca photos inside. We emailed the Murrays.
Q: Why did you choose Ralph’s for the cover?
A: We absolutely loved the store and its interesting old sign. We love the old cursive font that was used and especially are fond of the strange-shaped “S” in Ralph’s. We also liked the idea of featuring a store on the cover that has disappeared and is no longer in existence.
Q: Why is there no Tribeca chapter? Is the neighborhood too far gentrified?
A: The page count of the book kept growing and growing over the years we were working on the project and we had to cut out chapters and neighborhoods when there were too few stores to include a whole section on. It’s not that Tribeca is too gentrified, because many neighborhoods featured in the book are also gentrified, but we simply didn’t collect enough photos in the 10 year period of time we have been photographing and documenting these stores to fill a chapter.
Q: Did you take photographs of other places in Tribeca?
A: We did photograph other stores in Tribeca, including an old liquor store that was on Chambers Street. When we go to our storage place in a few weeks, we’ll look for other negatives for you.
Q: Have you heard from the former owner of Ralph’s?
A: No, but we hope that he has seen the book and will now always have a memento of his store.
This is one of those books you’ll never regret buying—in fact, we loved it so much we’re tempted to buy some of the prints, which the Murrays sell on their website, jamesandkarlamurray.com.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
STORE FRONT: THE DISAPPEARING FACE OF NEW YORK
BY JAMES & KARLA MURRAY, authors/photographers of Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York (Gingko Press, 2009)
We have been documenting New York City’s mom-and-pop storefronts for ten years. Astoundingly, almost one-half of the stores that we photographed have disappeared. This is a trend we couldn’t help noticing and what set this project in motion. We witnessed first hand the alarming rate at which the shops were disappearing, and decided to preserve what remained.
Our journey began while photographing the city’s streets and walls for an altogether different project. During the late 1990’s, we combed the streets of New York City searching out and documenting its graffiti art scene for a book we were making that also involved large-scale photography. In the process of publishing two books and several articles documenting graffiti art, we got to travel and discover many distant neighborhoods of the city. The nature of graffiti art is such that it constantly changes as new art covers what had been there before. We would often return to the very same locations and see new artwork there, necessitating many trips to a particular block. Despite the short time frame between visits however, we noticed that some blocks looked drastically different. Many neighborhood stores had closed, or we would come across “old” stores, still in business, but somehow different. They were either refaced, remodeled, or original signage had been substituted with new, bright and shiny plastic awnings. The whole look and feel of the neighborhood had changed and much of its individuality and charm had gone. The result was unsettling.
The traditional storefront that has prevailed in some cases for nearly a century is facing several new setbacks. These family-run businesses started out as traditional ‘mom and pop’ stores, and there was a time when they defined our neighborhoods. Many were humble stores tucked away on narrow side streets, while others had become well-known institutions on historic avenues. Each store turned out to be as unique as their customers, run by owners with a commitment to tradition and special service. The neighborhood store has always been a foothold for new immigrants and a comfortable place where familiar languages are spoken, where ethnic foods and culture are present. These shops are lifelines for their communities, vital to the residents who depend on them for a multitude of needs. When these shops fail, the neighborhood itself is affected. Not only are these modest institutions falling away in the face of modernization and conformity, the once unique appearance and character of our colorful streets suffer in the process.
We made it our mission to thoroughly document these stores, setting out with our 35 mm camera and micro-cassette recorder. After taking only a few pictures and speaking with only a handful of storeowners, we knew we had a compelling story. Many storeowners felt honored that we would take the time to photograph their business and ask about their store’s history. We often sat down with them for hours, talking and reminiscing. We felt welcomed into their ‘homes’ and many wouldn’t let us leave without taking ‘tokens’ of their appreciation such as loaves of bread, pastries, sausages, or pizza. We taped the interviews with a recorder, it being less obtrusive than a video camera.
Our choice to use a 35 mm film camera, rather than a digital camera was obvious; we wanted to remain “old-school” like the stores we were documenting. We also produced panoramic composite photographs depicting the feel of entire blocks. This was our only concession to modern technology: to combine successive single 35 mm film images of rows of storefronts, which comprise an entire city block, into a seamless linear presentation using a computer. With these panoramas, the viewer gains a bold, new perspective. Splendid details such as signage, architectural adornment, and hand-made window displays are presented in context, as they exist on the street. This allows a truly stunning and comprehensive view otherwise impossible to experience. These panoramic photographs are the only way to view these entire blocks of storefronts at once, with no obstruction from parking meters, street signs, parked automobiles and trucks, or any other element of New York’s crowded sidewalks.
In our interviews, we learned many fascinating details from the owners about the struggles of surviving as a business in New York City. One of the most common things we heard was how their neighborhoods have changed over the years and how this has affected their business. Gentrification and skyrocketing rents were huge concerns. Owners who were fortunate enough to own the entire building where the business was located still worried about the future. In some cases they had no one in their family who wanted to take over the business when they retire, bringing to an end a long line of family tradition. Many owners told us about New York City’s rules and regulations concerning store signage and awnings, and the aggravation and huge expenses these cause. We had no idea permits and fees were required for neon signs or large overhanging signs, and that the city is no longer issuing new permits. In fact in many areas of the city, strict zoning ensures that storefront signage and awnings remain discreet and not hang over 18 inches from the sidewalk. Older stores are often forced to comply with these newer regulations and must modernize despite the owners’ wishes.
Some of the highlights of our interviews included finding out that true delicatessens like Katz’s Delicatessen in the Lower East Side are rare because they continue a tradition of meat preparation and preservation that pre-dates refrigeration. We discovered that McSorley’s Old Ale House in the East Village was the last bar in New York City to admit only men. We were dismayed to learn that the closure of E. Kurowycky and Sons Meat Market in our own neighborhood of the East Village occurred because the owner was suddenly forced to remove the smoked ham, bacon, salami, and pork kielbasa hanging from hooks in his store window. A fate shared by many. We heard that the water in New York City is crucial to the resultant taste and texture of homemade mozzarella. Many cheese-producing shops that relocated out-of-state must now arrange to have New York’s water tanked in to their shops, sometimes as far as to California! We discovered the oldest teahouse in Chinatown, learned that Caffe Reggio in Greenwich Village was the first to introduce cappuccino into the United States, and could confirm first-hand that the C & N Everything Store in The Bronx literally does sell everything! The Wonder Wheel in Coney Island was bought as a wedding present for the wife of its owner. The owner’s son told us the gift was akin to “a ring so big that everyone in the world would see how much he loved her.” The birthplace of the teddy bear, next door to Jimmy’s Stationery & Toys in Bedford-Stuyvesant, had President Teddy Roosevelt’s personal blessing.
There is no typical New Yorker but there are quite distinct neighborhoods in New York City, often defined, in part, by their storefronts.
To view more of our Storefront photos, please go to: www.jamesandkarlamurray.com
Monday, April 20, 2009
” House-made sausage since 1938″ New York becomes more modern and more expensive. If the quarter changes, small family business cannot keep up often any longer. James and Karla Murray photographed the most beautiful infinitesimal shop fronts Small shops for iron or baking goods, shoe repairs or domestic animal need coin/shape our quarter, our quarter, our village. That is not in the Megapolis New York different than in a German town. The fronts of the small business operated by families often since generations coin/shape the face of a quarter, often without we become conscious their. The familiar sight - peeling color, handpainted special offer posters - stands for the fact that Zuhausesein is sometimes simply only called to know, where there is the freshest fish. Always gave. But New York wants to become more schicker everywhere - and becomes more expensive thereby. Many shops must make, because the house, in which the shop bar is located, is sold or torn off. Because the customers are missing. Or because none is, which the business would drive on wants. And even if the shop remains, many owners see themselves compelling to buck up and look more modern let it - as the whole quarter became more modern. In all five districts of New York James and Karla Murray the fronts of small shops, which created it in the new millenium, with the camera held town center. High time - nearly a third of the shops, which photographed it, already disappeared. We show a selection of the photographs from the book net curtain front, The Disappearing Face OF New York.