I moved to the Lower East Side long before it was known as the LES. Like most New Yorkers, home was only the place I rested my head, instead spending my days running around the city, letting the heartbeat of this town carry me through the night. It was during this time that I was exposed to the unique quality of Chinatown, the neighborhood that bumps up agains the LES; where Allen Street serves as the divider between bagel places that are closed on Saturdays on the east side and dollar dumpling spots thats open every day on the west side of the street.
Like most New Yorkers in my field, I spend most of my time hustling, working crazy hours. But my grind pales in comparison to the community around me. My apartment was surrounded by businesses that had carved out a niche market, addressing the unique needs of this immigrant community, whether it be menu printing stores, clothing factories, or reflexology massage parlors, the neighborhood was always buzzing. Growing up in the Caribbean, I felt at home with people who wake up before everyone else and go to bed when most lights have switched off in order to support family and friends near and far. From the street peddlers and hawkers, restaurant workers, fruit vendors and fish mongers, to the can collectors and ancient herbalists, this is a tightly knit community that remains leery of outsiders, rarely allowing a true glimpse into the world in which they live.
Profoundly aware of my status as an outsider, connected only by proximity and affinity to this community, I created this photographic journal in the hopes of capturing the rapidly changing and beautiful working class community that is New York City's Chinatown. Living in the neighborhood for as long as I have, as I embarked on this project I've witnessed fear, panic, anger and an occasional verbal slaying at the neighborhood's evolving landscape. I've also been privy to the more intimate moments of solitude and peace.
Just as I learned the neighborhood over the years by joining the night shift, I ventured out again under the cover of darkness, this time with my camera. As the neighborhood fills up with gentrified cafes and ice cream parlors, I attempted to capture the dying working class culture of Chinatown, narrowing in on the beauty, the struggle, the strength, and most of all, their commitment to tradition, ritual, family, and hard work.
This is my Chinatown Un-Told