Photography by Arlene Gottfried, courtesy of Daniel Cooney Fine Art.
In the 1950s, a wave of new residents hailing from Puerto Rico flooded New York City. Seeking the promise of a better life, families relocated to Manhattan's Lower East Side and various neighborhoods across Brooklyn, including Crown Heights, where photographer Arlene Gottfried grew up. "I took to the streets with my friends and neighbors, where I learned to dance salsa and speak some Spanish," Gottfried writes in the preface of her book, Bacalaitos & Fireworks, which collects portraits and snapshots of the latino community taken from the 1980s onwards. "When I picked up a camera, my friends in the neighborhood became my subjects."
The work collected in Bacalaitos & Fireworks stands as witness to the negative effects of poverty on new immigrants in the '80s, revealing the pain, alienation, and neglect experienced by Puerto Ricans, who saw unusally high rates of drug addiction, incarceration, and mortality among young people. When she moved to the Lower East Side, Gottfried encountered queer and trans individuals, and captured their thirst for freedom and artistic expression in Paris is Burning's New York.
"From my window...I could look out and see the Puerto Rican culture I encountered over 30 years earlier, around the same time I began photographing. One night I heard a street vendor on the corner of Avenue C and East 3rd Street calling, 'bacalaitos and fireworks'; bacalaitos, a fried cod fish indigenous to Puerto Rico, and fireworks, for the Fourth of July weekend. This juxtaposition became etched in my mind—representative of an immigrant population on the streets of America."
A selection of Gottfried's pictures from the book is currently on view through April 16 at Daniel Cooney Fine Art —her second solo exhibition at the Chelsea gallery. Click through for a preview.
Pictured: "El Cotorito"