by Paul Kieper
Yesterday, Becca and I finally visited the Brooklyn Historical Society (which is two blocks away from our apt) for the first time.
One of the highlights was a current exhibit called Counter/Culture – The Disappearing Face of Brooklyn’s Storefronts. I must admit, I’ve taken a ride down streets like Flatbush Avenue and wondered (aloud), “How do all of these shitty little shops stay in business?” (I’ve since learned that the generally accepted answer is, “They own the building. Otherwise they would have been priced out years ago.”)
To many, these relics of old New York are considered eyesores and a waste of space. But the panoramic photos of these storefronts made me see them in a different light, snapshots of a particular slice of time in the city’s history. And when put into this context, they started to take on a particular (peculiar) beauty. Now, I’m not about to get all sentimental and cry out that every mom n’ pop shop needs to be preserved for all time. But that’s why maintaining a visual record is so important - because those storefronts may not look the same a year, month, or even a week from now. And that’s not necesarily a bad thing, so much as just a necessary thing. In a city that is constantly evolving, it would be naive to expect its businesses and their aesthetics not to do the same.
The Counter/Culture exhibit features the work of photographers James and Karla Murray. You can view some of their storefront photos here. Their book, Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York, is available on Amazon.