Photographer Barbara Mensch’s rediscovered photo archives and interview tapes capture symbolic transformations of Lower Manhattan.
Many of these images are published here for the first time. The photographs evoke the passage of time by dividing the images into three parts: the 1980s, the 1990s, and the new millennium (2000 and beyond). The photographer shares with the viewer:
“I would shoot ruins of buildings, the demolition of famous waterfront saloons, ancient alleyways, and, in some cases, nineteenth-century buildings destroyed by mysterious fires. There were images of floods and other calamities/catastrophes in Lower Manhattan, culminating with 9/11.
These photos captured what had been, what no longer exists. They served as my visual timeline. What did the passage of the many decades reveal to me? What dynamics were in my images of the same streets I repeatedly walked for years?”
The author’s images from the Fulton Fish Market in the 1980s document the generations of immigrants and their children pursuing a gritty American Dream next to the Brooklyn Bridge.
Photos from the 1990s present images of floods and fires that paralyzed the area, juxtaposed with continued bulldozing to clear the way for luxury housing. Politics reshaped Manhattan’s skyline by encouraging new commercial shopping, food, and restaurant destinations. This restructuring marked the beginning of the end of downtown’s blue-collar origins and white-collar replacements, challenging us to ask, “What was lost?”
The seminal event of the 2000s, September 11, 2001, reinforced downtown’s rebirth as the global economic engine with no room for the past. Also included in this section is an interview with an insider privy to the Mafia leadership of the Fulton Fish Market during Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s opportunistic crusade against them in the 1980s.
Dan Barry, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, offers a poetic and insightful tribute to the artist and photographer.
“Definitions: ‘falling off’ suggests a decline in quality or quantity, ‘falling off’ suggests the passage of time or changes over time, ‘falling off’ suggests a detachment, an alternative path to a questionable destination, ‘falling off’ suggests a separation, ‘falling off’ suggests something that comes to pass.”