Parks are frequented for pleasure, refuge and solace. They are found in the most affluent suburbs as well as the harshest urban settings. Designed as neutral territory they not only offer a patch of green, trees and benches, but are a barometer of the community.
The photographs in this collection focus on the people who frequented Tompkins Square Park—a ten-and-a-half-acre plot, laid out in the early 1830s, and named after then vice-president Daniel P. Tompkins. It is located in New York City’s Lower East Side, an area that became home to the Irish, Germans, Jews, Italians, Slavs, Poles, Ukrainians, Hispanics, and African-Americans, in successive waves of immigration. Each group that settled in the area used its grounds for protest.
The photographs were made during daily half-hour strolls on my lunch break, beginning in August 1997, and ending in August 1999. In this two-year period, Tompkins Park was used by the general public, and also provided asylum to a variety of indigent people, including runaway teens, the mentally ill, parolees, prostitutes, substance-abusers, vagabonds, and the homeless. This distinct and diverse human family offers an unsanitized view of life—a humanity composed of the sacred and the profane, coexisting on common ground.
We encounter a troubled teen, a neo-Nazi, a senior citizen feeding pigeons, an assortment of lovers, an exhibitionist, a man meditating, volunteers with food for the hungry, a battered woman, a dancer perfecting his form—each a unique universe. I pointed my lens on those who consented, and gave them prints later; authentic photographs are rooted in the trust established between photographer and subject. The resulting images are freely given, affirming life, no matter how dire or bizarre the circumstances.
This cast of "characters" has long since vanished, due to the efforts of former mayor Rudolph Guliani, who successfully rid the park of its indigent population. Today, boutiques, restaurants, and developers have made their imprint on a run-down neighborhood seeking a face-lift. These images preserve the face of a colorful heterogeneous community, and mirror a unique period in the park's history, as the tender and the savage found safe harbor on public soil. We are all one body. With these photographs, I embrace Tompkins People, and present them to a wider audience, so that everyone may see in their eyes: our children, our neighbors, ourselves.
New York City, 1999
Tompkins People Abraham Menashe Xlibris, © 1999 wwww.humanistic-phtography.com
I first saw Abraham Menashe’s photographs when my son placed a copy of his book, Inner Grace, in my car. I was touched by the photographs. Since then Mr. Menashe has been a contributor to 591 and has several exhibitions posted on 591. We know from his work that Mr. Menashe values humans and their emotions. He hopes to express the true nature of humans and remind others of the compassion we need to feel for ourselves and our fellow travelers in life. We are pleased to announce this is Mr. Menashe’s second permanent exhibition. You can see him on 591 here! -R