Portraits and Pigeons

Photo by Chris Arnade

I stopped into the Urban Folk Art Gallery yesterday on my way home from work to see Portraits and Pigeons, the new exhibition by Chris Arnade. It’s extremely powerful stuff. Arnade’s a bond trader for Salomon Brothers who’ s apparently spent a lot of time trekking up to Hunts Point in the Bronx, interviewing and photographing street people up there: hookers, junkies, crack addicts, homeless people, alcoholics, and, saddest of all, children who are growing up in the toughest of urban environments. (“What makes you think I have money to give you?” he asks a group when they demand some from him. “Because you’re white and you have that camera” is the reply).

Many of the pictures are hard to look at, but that’s their value. In person, you would avert your gaze…or, much more likely, give Hunts Point a wide berth. Here in the gallery, you take it all in, as well you should. Arnade’s eloquent text slugs spell out why. Several of the streetwalkers he interviewed, for example, say they “fell into” horrible drug addictions that reduced them to prostitution to support their habits. Most had been working single mothers who resorted to drugs as a way of coping with the stress. There ought to be some alternative to this state of affairs.

The “pigeons” part of the show is a series of photos of several guys who keep coops on their roofs,  tending and caring for their own personal flocks. (The guy in the photo above has very rural-looking farmstead, surrounded on three sides by massive housing projects). Including these pictures in the show isn’t the stretch that it seems. Arnade seems to be reminding us that positive things come out of the urban environment, too.

Does Occupy Wall Street known people like Arnade exist? Does Wall Street? My takeaway from this show is that instead of slapping labels on each other, each of us ought to just go out and DO something worth doing.

Proceeds from the exhibition go to help the Hunts Point Alliance for Children. Portraits and Pigeons is up at the Urban Folk Art Gallery, 101 Smith Street, Brooklyn through April 4. Many m0re details are here.

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