Thursday, October 18, 2007

Tuesday Night at the Park Slope Barnes & Noble: Anthont LaSala & Seth Kushner’s "The Brooklynites"

This was posted to Richard Grayson's MySpace blog on Thursday, October 18, 2007:

Tuesday Night at the Park Slope Barnes & Noble: LaSala & Kushner’s "The Brooklynites" at OTBKB

At Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn, I have a report on Tuesday evening's presentation by Anthony LaSala and Seth Kushner on their book, The Brooklynites:

ON TUESDAY EVENING I attended a presentation at the Park Slope Barnes & Noble by Anthony LaSala and Seth Kushner about their excellent coffee-table book of photos and interviews, The Brooklynites. Casually dressed, they sat on either side of a screen on which they showed Seth's photos of Brooklyn residents from the book and discussed how they went about developing and executing their project and gave interesting tidbits about their subjects.

The first photo that the pair of Brooklyn natives (Seth has never left the borough for more than two weeks at a time; Anthony went away only for college) showed was of themselves back in high school in Bay Ridge in 1991.

When the two friends started their project to photograph the people of Brooklyn, they had a hard time. The neighborhood young women at the annual feast on 18th Avenue, thinking the guys were "perverts" trying to pick them up, were suspicious – as were many others.

Even Seymour, their local hardware store owner, was so dubious about what seemed to him a "not very successful" idea that he refused to be photographed – and would not agree to be until after a year had elapsed and the duo had already shot celebrities like Spike Lee (their first big "get," Spike led to others), Rosie Perez (who drove Anthony's car "with a very heavy foot" to the marqueta in Williamsburg where she posed), Jonathan Lethem (who also rounded up Brooklyn's other literary Jonathans, Safran Foer and Ames) and Marty Markowitz (photographed at his table at Junior's, where he posed with a slab of cheesecake that he would not eat – at least in front of them – but did take home).

Seth and Anthony said they gained of weight from all their travels around the borough: they got steaks at Peter Luger (whose chef is seen on the Williamsburg Bridge), pizza at Totonno's and DiFara's (Dominick DeMarco has his floured hands, as usual, taking his pie out of the oven), and cases of Fox's U-Bet syrup at the Brownsville factory where the crucial ingredient in eggcreams is still manufactured and which is permeated by the smell of chocolate.

They also got to go behind the scenes at Brooklyn's cultural and historic attractions. The pair got into the Brooklyn Museum on a Monday or Tuesday, when all of us natives know it's never open, to take a photo of director Arnold Lehman in the famed Egyptian room. They also went to Green-Wood Cemetery on a bright snowy day when it too was closed, to shoot director Ken Taylor – who told them it was often hard to convince pizzerias that, yes, the delivery should come to his home in a graveyard.

And that shot of Otis the sea lion and his keeper at the New York Aquarium also allowed Seth and Anthony access to places usually off-limits to the public. They even managed to get past the gate in Sea Gate, which Anthony said was unlike any other place in the city, when they shot gymnast Olga Karminski doing contortions on a ledge in front of the Sea Gate lighthouse.

Other photos we saw featured the Coney Island freak show's The Great Fredini, swallowing a sword on a street corner in Greenpoint; writer David Lefkowitz and his young son, who actually live on a Gowanus Canal houseboat; one of the young players for the Cyclones in Keyspan Park, with the Parachute Jump in the background; and singer Sufjan Stevens, photographed on the Brooklyn Bridge in one of the most artistic shots in the book (thanks to the wonderful geometric patterns of the bridge's cables).

They were most pleased to shoot Steve Buscemi on the block in East New York where he grew up; they were invited to his old apartment, which he hadn't been in since childhood and where he did his first acting for his mom and dad. But of course many of the portraits in the book are not of famous Brooklynites but of the regular people we pass on the street every day. In the book, all of them get to talk about what makes Brooklyn special to them. (When asked by Southerners to say something in Brooklynese, one wise guy photographed in the book said he told them, "Hand over your wallet.")

After the presentation, a lot of us lined up to get our copies of The Brooklynites signed by Seth and Anthony. I'm sending mine to my father who may have lived in other states for the past 30 years but who's still a Brooklynite at heart.

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