I discovered Red Hook by chance, making a wrong turn getting off the Smith Street Train Station in Brooklyn. Over the course of the next two years, I returned to photograph this urban, gritty wonderland. I find a post industrial part of the city where the story is in the quiet details.
Roode Hoek, as named by the Dutch colonists who settled there in the 1600s, was named after the point of land that stuck out into the New York Bay, and the red clay soil upon which everything is built. On the surface it seems somewhat desolate, but is in fact in a constant state of flux and activity. It’s an especially disorientating space; constant change makes physical markers for navigating the streets unreliable. What was there one week, would be gone the next. However, there is the looming Gowanus Expressway. If you look, you can find it almost everywhere.
It reminded me of the disorientation I experienced when the Trade Towers disappeared—the physical anchor of the Trade Center that defined the downtown skyline, and imprinted on one’s psyche, was now absent. Within this impression of disorder, my photographs bring about a certain level of re-stabilizing, through a formal use of the photographic frame, use of vertical and horizontal lines, juxtaposed and layered upon the physical and visual chaos that I see before me. The vertical line replaces what is missing in this neighborhood. The tall buildings and the trees have all been stripped from the environment. We see strength and dignity in the in gates and lamp posts and the fences.
Dilapidated, abandoned buildings sit beside renovated architecture. Alongside the Victorian warehouses, are newly-built apartments. What comes to mind are cubist structures, particularly their foundations—the blocks and the cubes left from the industrial revolution. Building and destruction—we are left with the cube.
In my photographs, I do not embellish or glorify what I see. I am interested in discovering beauty away from traditional aesthetics. There is no artifice, with each scene photographed as I have found it, trash and all.
I have found my journey through Red Hook, fascinating. Empty lots make me wonder what was there before, overgrown playing fields conjure the cheers of playing children. At once enthralled, but also somewhat saddened by the change. It makes me think about what Fritz Leiber—a writer of American Horror and Science Fiction in the early 1900s—wrote to a student; “Your picture looks like the breaking apart of the modern world. Families, nations, classes and loyalty are all falling apart. Things changing before you know them”.
About Lisa Cutler
Lisa Cutler is a New York-based photographer whose practice spans landscape, portraiture and street photography. Lisa turned to photography after a successful career as a TV Producer and Director and then raising a family. Lisa’s most recent major project is a series of photographs that explore the urban landscape of Red Hook, Brooklyn. Lisa’s Red Hook series has recently recieved much acclaim and recognition. Red Hook was selected by The Los Angeles Center of Photography for its Project 2020 Exhibition, and by Photolucida’s Critical Mass 2020 as a Top 200 finalist. It also received an Honorable Mention at the Le Prix de la Photographie de Paris (2019).
Red Hook also won the 2020 15th Annual Julia Margaret Cameron Award for Women Photographers in non-professional cityscapes and was named a finalist in the KLOMPCHING GALLERY Fresh 2020 exhibit. Along with her work in Red Hook, Lisa is now working on additional projects that reflect the impact of the coronavirus on more rural neighborhoods in New York. She is also working on a book. [Official Website]